An interesting week in local politics


By Gary Abernathy - gabernathy@timesgazette.com



There’s never a dull moment in local politics, and last week was no exception. Three items of interest…

Gary Lewis

It took nearly four weeks of unnecessary drama for the Hillsboro city auditor to do what could have been done right away – approve a purchase order submitted by the safety and service director for the demolition of a building owned by Mayor Drew Hastings.

In fairness, Gary Lewis can be forgiven for believing that his position as city auditor includes decision-making authority, as opposed to its actual functionary role. Too often during council meetings over the years, a council member has turned to Gary and said something like, “I’d like to know what the auditor thinks.”

Unlike the best example set by our county auditor when something like that happens, Gary is usually all-too-willing to offer an opinion. It has fed a misconception that the auditor helps make city decisions, something Gary himself apparently believes, as evidenced by an email he wrote in which he said that despite the fact he and Drew don’t like each other, “we were able to get a great deal done.”

In fact, anything that has been done or not done has been because of those elected to offices charged with making legislative and policy decisions, namely the mayor and city council.

Fred Beery, the law director, reminded Gary of the limits of his role back in 2011 when the auditor refused to honor a purchase order submitted by safety-service director Ralph Holt. Of course, Gary now says he has no faith in Fred’s legal advice, which led to the latest commotion and will create a very unfortunate circumstance going forward.

Todd Wilkin

Congratulations and good luck to Todd Wilkin in his new job as city manager of Greenfield. His selection by the village council to fill the role left vacant by Ron Coffey’s retirement was not a surprise. When Ron announced his intention to retire many months ago, there were a lot of immediate predictions that Todd would be interested in the job, which was only natural.

By most accounts, Todd did a good job as safety-service director in Hillsboro from 2013-16. Even after the mayor’s felony trial where Todd was a key witness for the state, I know Drew had hoped that the issues could be put behind them and Todd would stay on.

But Drew’s acquittal led Todd to come to the next council meeting armed with a long list of city ordinances he said should be created or revised, almost all obviously aimed at Drew and the issues he faced during the 2016 investigation.

Council and most city residents were ready to move on, no matter how they felt about the whole thing, but Todd wasn’t, nor was he apparently willing to resign, so Drew had little choice but to fire him.

In an example of all things eventually working out for the best, Todd will probably enjoy being city manager in Greenfield more than being safety-service director in Hillsboro even during the best of times.

Under Greenfield’s form of government, Todd won’t have to answer to a mayor. He will be much more of his own boss on a day-to-day basis. He technically reports to, and answers to, council, but no one will be looking over his shoulder every day, which I think will suit him much better. And I doubt any stamps will be created with Todd’s signature.

Cliff Rosenberger

The sudden series of events involving Cliff Rosenberger, our former state representative from the 91st District who became the speaker of the Ohio House, was pretty fast and startling. No one knows for sure what the FBI is investigating, but on a personal level I hope they find nothing too damning against Cliff, and that he’s right when he says his actions have been “ethical and lawful.”

But the whole episode serves as yet another reminder why term limits are not good. Without term limits in place, no one with only four years of experience would likely have been tapped for speaker of the House. Most people I know were very surprised when Cliff was elected to that post by his fellow House members. He is apparently the youngest person ever elected Ohio House speaker.

Under term limits, there’s little choice but to elect someone with such limited experience to the speakership. I was happy for our district that Cliff was tapped as speaker, just as I would be happy if Shane Wilkin or Beth Ellis ended up being speaker someday.

But with eight-year term limits in place, instances like this are bound to be repeated. Few there are who have the knowledge and experience to assume the speakership after just four years on the job. But if you wait until someone has six years — still not enough — that leaves them only two years to serve as speaker.

Say what you want about the amount of power and influence held by longtime speakers like Vern Riffe, the former Democrat from Scioto County who ruled the House with an iron fist for two decades. But Riffe had served 16 years in the House prior to being elected speaker. It was much better to have people armed with the experience, wisdom and relationships necessary to do the job right.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.

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By Gary Abernathy

gabernathy@timesgazette.com