Usually, when someone responds negatively to something I have published in this space, I ignore it, figuring everyone has an opinion, and they deserve a chance to state their opinion every bit as much I do. From time to time, though, I feel a need to defend myself, or at least set the record straight. This is one of those times.
Last week I wrote a column about the former Gross Fiebel building in Hillsboro, saying it is way past time for the structure to disappear.
When I came to work Monday, I had an email from Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings taking exception with my opinion on the building, and saying, “…It sure seems as if I am portrayed as the target, if not directly, then indirectly.” The mayor asked us to publish his letter to the editor (and we did), but then he felt the need to post both my column and his response on the City of Hillsboro’s Facebook page.
That made me scratch my head in wonder, because the purpose of my column last week had absolutely nothing to do with targeting the mayor.
In fact, before I wrote the column I thought the mayor and I were on the same page when it came to the Gross Fiebel building. Last week I called it the city’s biggest eyesore. Likewise, in an August 2017 Times-Gazette story, shortly after city council appropriated $40,000 to purchase the Gross Fiebel property, the mayor called it, “the biggest blight site we have in the city.”
So, I think you can see why I thought we were on the same page.
The mayor also questioned why I “choose an editorial to air (my) frustration regarding the Gross Fiebel building.” That’s easy to answer — because it has bothered me since at least the mid 1970s — decades before Mr. Hastings moved to the area.
I wrote that many city officials before the current mayor turned a blind eye to the building that is obviously a liability to the city, not to mention a danger to its residents. Those officials include former mayors, safety and service directors, council members, and many more that came long before the current mayor. So, I fail to see how I was singling out the mayor.
In his response, Mr. Hastings also mentioned something about the former Mother Thompson house, a longtime home to Eliza Jane Thompson, who could be the considered the matriarch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and how the house was allowed to rot into the ground. The mayor asked where the outcry was then.
Mr. Hastings, I know the people that owned the Mother Thompson house at the time. They offered it for sale more than once. No reasonable offer was made. I wrote stories about it at the time, interviewed the owners, took pictures of it, and toured the inside. In fact, I was told that I could go look inside anytime I wanted. And I did.
So, at least in my opinion, I covered that issue appropriately.
The mayor also wrote, “Where I think your concerns are misplaced is in any coverage of our incoming mayor. His election in less than 90 days has had not one iota of coverage by your paper. No profile, no one has interviewed him as to his plans to move the city forward. In fact, the silence is deafening when it comes to any talk of this era of leadership.”
Really? On Jan. 17, 2018, we published a story saying Justin Harsha had pulled a petition to run for mayor. On June 10, 2018, The Times-Gazette published a story saying Harsha was running for mayor, including comments from him about some of the reasons he was running. On Feb. 7, 2019, we published another story saying Harsha was running for mayor, and just last week we mentioned it again.
Besides all that, since you have run for mayor twice, you know the routine, Mr. Hastings. We normally don’t run full stories on candidates until closer to election time. That’s so those stories will be fresh in our readers’ minds when they go to the polls.
And if that’s not enough, no one is running against Justin Harsha, other than a couple write-in candidates, who have a snowball’s chance on a 100-degree day of beating him, so what’s the point? No matter what we write, Justin Harsha is going to be Hillsboro’s next mayor, unless something unforeseen happens. So what, exactly, is it that you want us to expose?
Mr. Hastings, you know that I have wrote columns in the past in support of you, when others were trying to remove you from office and more. You even thanked me for them. So why, in the name of everything sensible, and given the above explanations, would you think I was attacking you?
I believe it’s good that the city has purchased the Gross Fiebel building. I’m glad there are plans to do something with it. But it’s past time. It should have been dealt with 10, 20, 30, 40 maybe even 50 years ago, and that has nothing to do with you, Mr. Hastings.
That was my point — that the building should have been dealt with long ago. I have looked at the building in disgust for decades — when I was running past it during track practice in high school, when I was covering football games as reporter later on and could not miss it, and to this day every time I drive past it. It looks like our city doesn’t care that the building is an eyesore and a risk.
But the city would care if something bad happened there. Those close to that person would care a lot. Nobody wants that.
That’s all I was trying to say. Nothing more, nothing less.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.