When Drew Hastings announced he was running for mayor of Hillsboro four years ago, one frequent question was whether the stand-up comedian would take the job seriously or simply use it as fodder for his comedy career. Whether one supports or opposes him or his initiatives, no one can claim four years later that Hastings has not taken the job seriously and devoted himself to it.
More than anything, Drew Hastings’ first term as mayor will be remembered for his effort to disband the city’s fire department and replace it with a contract with the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District. It’s important to remember that the outcome for the Hillsboro fire department had its genesis in a series of events long before Hastings was sworn in as mayor, starting several years ago with a union contract that eventually resulted in some firefighters making more than $100,000 a year, including overtime. Those salaries, when they were publicly reported, sparked outrage from city residents, newspaper columnists and several township trustees who had long contracted with Hillsboro for coverage of their neighboring townships. As a result, when he took office Hastings inherited an existing stalemate between the city and townships over continued fire and EMS coverage.
Then, just a few months into the new mayor’s tenure, city Auditor Gary Lewis warned that five straight years of increased spending and stagnant revenue had resulted in shrinking carryovers. Without drastic changes, he warned, the city would soon be in the hole to the tune of $670,000. The improvement that followed was due to a series of bold decisions. Hastings’ handling of the fire department issue was the boldest move of all, and before long the city’s carryovers were at the million dollar mark, a turnaround of about $1.6 million.
Hastings, a Republican, is sometimes criticized as an outsider, but his outsider status put him in the best position to make the tough decisions necessary for the overall financial health of the city. The direction he led in regard to fire and EMS coverage was a difficult but needed move. With the savings from the fire and EMS changes, coupled with other decisions that saved money, the city has hired more police officers, paved more streets, and for two straight years has been financially sound enough to place a moratorium on previously scheduled water and sewer rate hikes, saving money for Hillsboro citizens on utility bills.
Hastings is not shy about taking on state or federal issues. In 2012, he went to Columbus and was among the most vocal critics in the state when AEP’s skyrocketing electric bills jeopardized local businesses and alarmed local residents. Thanks to officials like Hastings from across Ohio, the PUCO took the unprecedented step of ordering AEP to roll back its rates and submit a new rate plan.
The city has also made smart choices in regard to improvements to traffic flow with the removal of unneeded traffic lights and the addition of turn lanes. The mayor’s focus on cleaning up blighted properties and establishing standards for the appearance of the uptown business district represents a positive vision to create a clean, attractive town that will be a lure for businesses and jobs. There is no question that more property owners across the city have taken the initiative to improve their homes and businesses. And even lawsuits against the city, which are not unusual for any municipality but which some use to criticize Hastings, are in many cases based on unsettled issues from past years that the current administration has had to address.
Hastings struck gold with the hiring of Todd Wilkin as the city safety and service director. Wilkin’s straightforward, businesslike approach to the job and sense of integrity has won admirers and brought a welcome air of professionalism to the position. Wilkin has proven to be a cool head who sometimes serves as a counterbalance to the mayor’s more passionate personality. Administrative aides Debbie Sansone, Heather Collins and Mindy Gall are talented and efficient, serving the citizens well.
Hastings’ opponent, Democrat Pam Limes, is a former businesswoman and an educated, intelligent individual with a history of involvement in charitable foundations and organizations. Among her supporters are a number of former public officials who were in city leadership prior to Hastings, along with those who opposed his move regarding the fire department. But she has offered few specifics about how she would differ from Hastings on policy, and her refusal to participate in any one-on-one debates is unfortunate for voters. Limes’ main campaign theme seems to be that she will be a kinder, gentler mayor.
We believe that most city residents share our opinion that Drew Hastings has demonstrated the kind of bold leadership that has led to important and necessary changes in the city. More importantly, he has taken the steps needed to put Hillsboro on sound financial footing. He has served Hillsboro effectively and with dedication, and he has earned our support for another four years.