Paint Creek Fire Chief Bradley George was finally and officially cleared last week of charges that were not appreciably different than a couple of the allegations reportedly facing Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, the most similar being “forgery” and the accompanying allegation of misappropriation of funds.
We know now that the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation had spent months probing the allegations against Bradley. We do not officially know the details of the charges, although unofficially they are not so secret, and they always seemed rather flimsy in the telling. Also similar to Hillsboro’s mayor, the charges against the fire chief were fortified in part by an insurrection from among his ranks.
BCI’s ultimate conclusion was a great outcome for Bradley, except for the fact that it took several months under a dark cloud of suspicion, along with a world of anguish for his family, before that conclusion was reached. At least he didn’t suffer the ignominy of nighttime raids on his residence to prove whether he lived there or not, as far as we know. Which brings us back to that head-scratching event.
Several former law enforcement officials confirmed to me in recent days that in their view, there was no reason for the state auditor’s office to lead a dark-of-night raid on the mayor’s Hillsboro residence for the kinds of allegations he is facing. The same thing that would have been found at 10:30 at night could have been found at 1:30 in the afternoon, if such a search was necessary at all.
Raids after dark are traumatic for anyone who might be home at the time, whether it be the mayor, his wife and their 7-year-old daughter, or, as it turned out, the mayor’s father-in-law. Further, such nighttime forays can also be dangerous for law enforcement personnel such as the sheriff’s deputies who accompanied the auditor’s office investigator, the former lawmen told me.
Laura Curliss was a longtime assistant to former Wilmington Mayor David Raizk. She also served nearly six years in two different prosecutors’ offices. She has a master’s degree in divinity from Yale and a law degree from Notre Dame (you would think it might be the other way around). She served briefly as assistant law director in Hillsboro.
We published a letter last week from Laura on how the courts have ruled on the question of legal residence of officeholders or candidates. I have often pointed out that the law is not what the code books say it is. The law is what courts have ruled that it is. Laura’s letter reinforces that point.
In spite of a focus by investigators on underwear and bras in the closets or drawers, or the measurable use of toilets and other appliances at the mayor’s Hillsboro residence, Laura reminded us what the courts really care about, as illustrated by the case of Jon Husted. Husted is the current Ohio Secretary of State and former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. A few years ago he was accused of living in Franklin County but running for office in Montgomery County.
Eventually, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Husted’s favor. The court said that in determining residency, significant weight must be given to precedent that “emphasizes the person’s intent to make a place a fixed or permanent place of abode.” The court also said that Husted’s stated intention to eventually reside full-time someday in Montgomery County was undisputed and deserved significant consideration. In other words, according to the court, home is where the heart is.
Another interesting letter to the editor last week was sent to another journal, one which has vigorously stirred the pot against the mayor for the last four years. The letter was from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, responding to yet another attack upon his integrity because he did not do the bidding of those who wanted him to throw the mayor out of office in 2013 for supposedly not living where he said he lives.
The attorney general wrote that when it comes to the Hastings case, “For my office to take action, the legal burden is to find proof that he does not live in the city. Further, the courts have held that weight must be given to where he is registered to vote.”
There is no doubt that Drew lives in the city and is registered to vote here. In America, we are all permitted to own and live in as many homes as we can afford. What seems to consume his accusers is whether he spends more time living on his farm than in the city.
But the most significant part of DeWine’s response was when he noted, “Only upon sufficient evidence should the decision of the voters be overturned in a court of law.”
Note the weight given to overturning “the decision of the voters.” Consistently through the years, courts have been loath to use politically-motivated charges or debatable infractions to remove people from office who were put there by the people (twice now in the case of Drew Hastings), and rightfully so.
Perhaps in other areas of their probe, investigators have evidence of the kind of criminal activity that rises to the level of removing the mayor from office. If so, they should make their case, or, as with Bradley George, they should say never mind, and let everyone get back to work and on with their lives – even if it leaves the mayor’s accusers less than satisfied once again.
In the Bradley George case, there were initially two or three of the chief’s staff who were unhappy with him. Then the two or three became four and then six, and so on, until finally more than 30 full-time and part-time firefighters agreed to sign a letter expressing “no confidence” against him.
That’s how these things snowball when a sense of momentum builds. There were undoubtedly valid complaints among the 70 specific issues included in the “no confidence” vote presented to the fire board. But there were also plenty of, as fire board President Dan Mathews put it to much criticism, “nit-picking” items.
Likewise, affidavits connected to the Hastings investigation tell us that an unspecified number of city workers are among the mayor’s accusers. Odds are good that what started as one, two or three has since multiplied. Like the firefighters who rallied against Bradley, it doesn’t mean they are all malicious or ill-willed. In fact, they may be convinced they are on the side of the angels. But it can also reflect the irresistible lure of a bandwagon with lots of room to sit. What once seemed small and insignificant becomes magnified and exaggerated when the Greek chorus begins to sing.
Bradley George – and those within his ranks who made a play for his ouster – are now facing the challenge of putting the past behind them and finding a way to work together again. The same can happen in Hillsboro city government, but not until the prosecutor from the state auditor’s office decides he’s finally banged on enough doors after dark to see if someone is living behind the door, just as visiting in-laws are dozing off to sleep on the couch.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.