Can’t we all just say thank you?

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

Let me start by saying what almost everyone else is saying since we reported online Wednesday the identity of the donor of the $78,000 gift to the city of Hillsboro. Thank you!

The donation from the William C. Mason Charitable Remainder Unitrust to the people of Hillsboro was a thoughtful and generous gesture. Thinking of Hillsboro was not a recent development either – when the trust was established back in 1992, Hillsboro was one of the entities listed as a contingent beneficiary eligible to receive donations.

The Mason family is well known and highly regarded in this region. It is commendable that Bill hoped to remain anonymous. To speak with him is to realize what a humble and quiet man he is, not seeking any fanfare.

While the overwhelming response from people since we reported Bill’s identity has been extremely positive, unfortunately that is not true of everyone. The leading cause of division and negativity in our community almost immediately spewed forth a rant implying something rotten in Denmark.

It’s very sad, and as usual the “facts” are entirely misconstrued. After taking the usual potshots at the mayor, this newspaper and, in this case, the entire city council, the “conflict of interest” laws that are cut and pasted have no application to the case at hand. Those laws apply to improper gifts of value to individuals. They do not apply to legal charitable contributions made to an entire city.

The Mason charitable trust gift was made to the entire city of Hillsboro, to the people of Hillsboro. While Bill may have included a note expressing his wish that the funds be used at the discretion of the mayor, that is not doable without council’s consent, a fact that the mayor himself noted when the donation was first received. Bill Mason understands that, too. He was just expressing his preference.

In regard to the effort to cast a shadow on a bid awarded by the city to Bill’s former company, which is now operated by his children, again the facts are ignored. First, the city and most other government bodies these days advertise for the “lowest and best” bid, in order to ensure that they are not trapped into accepting the lowest bid even when the details of the lowest bid do not pass muster or include what might be inferior work.

But in this case, when the city first bid the project in question, all the initial bids came in too high. The city revamped the scope of the work and, under the direction of the law director, put it out for bid again. The Mason bid was the lowest. The practice of posing incriminating questions without any effort to get the answers is unfortunate, but par for the course.

The Miller-Mason Paving Company and the William C. Mason Charitable Remainder Unitrust are two entirely separate entities. The charitable trust is legally established and designed to do exactly what it has been doing for more than two decades – make perfectly legal charitable contributions.

It’s done all over America by similar trusts, including gifts to municipalities. Sometimes the trustees of the charity do so with the attitude, “This community has been good to me and my family, and we just want to give something back.” After talking with Bill on two separate occasions, I know that is his attitude.

Can’t we all just say thank you? Most of us can, so let me devote the remainder of this space to doing just that.

After early on requesting and receiving from the city a copy of the letter that accompanied the donation, I later contacted Bill, first to thank him as a resident of Hillsboro for his generosity and thoughtfulness, and then to ask him to reconsider his desire to remain anonymous. I knew that public record laws would eventually require the city to reveal his identity. I made the choice not to report his identity out of respect for his wishes, but I tried to convince him to voluntarily step forward then.

Then, and again on Wednesday, Bill, who now lives in Florida, spoke of his obvious love for this community. He shared many memories of his life here. When closing out the charitable trust, most of the remaining funds went to Wilmington College, as usual, but he expressed his happiness in also being able to make a gift to our city.

He asked me very politely to allow him to remain anonymous. I knew that eventually it would have to come out, but in the meantime I decided to continue to honor his wishes a while longer.

Let’s be clear. City officials have always known who made the donation – a municipality cannot accept money from an unknown source – and anyone on council who wanted to know had no trouble learning the identity when they asked. In fact, I think half the city already knew unofficially who had given the funds, because that type of thing doesn’t stay quiet in a small town like Hillsboro.

But when Bill called me Wednesday, he said he thought it was best to go ahead and reveal his identity publicly because he could tell that the criticisms and accusations were getting out of hand. He knew the mayor was facing other troubles and didn’t want Drew’s efforts to honor his wishes serving as a reason for some people to pile on. So I wrote the story.

There is enough bad news that happens naturally. The contribution to the city from the Mason charitable trust is a good news story that everyone should be celebrating. There is no reason, no need, to try to make it anything than what it is – a generous gesture from someone who loves this community.

Thank you, Bill. The citizens of Hillsboro appreciate you.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]