Before we venture into today’s main topic, let’s clarify an item on the Drew Hastings investigation that was presented elsewhere last week. I would not address it except for the fact I have been asked a few times in recent days by those who saw it, “Did you see that Drew was found guilty?” and “Why didn’t The Times-Gazette report it?”
Drew, of course, was not found guilty of anything, and The Times-Gazette reported the story two months ago. The issue in question was the unsealing last week of a warrant and affidavit that were filed in municipal court back in early January, which we reported a few days later because we agreed to a request by officials not to report it immediately. When the filing was dismissed within 24 hours, the judge ordered it to be sealed for 90 days, a time frame which ended last week.
But we didn’t have to wait 90 days. The same information contained in the sealed affidavit – an allegation that the mayor asked someone to lie – was included with another affidavit, the one connected to the nighttime search of the mayor’s residence. That affidavit was obtained and its information reported two months ago by The Times-Gazette.
As to the judge’s “decision,” a judge ruled 90 days ago that there was enough probable cause to issue a warrant, as has happened multiple times during this investigation. It was nothing more, nothing less.
In case you missed it – which most of you didn’t because it was a very well-read story – here is the link to our article from back in early February, which included the info contained in the sealed affidavit along with many other items. http://timesgazette.com/news/5534/search-warrant-served-on-mayors-hillsboro-home
Hillsboro City Council’s Finance Committee voted 2-1 on Thursday to recommend delaying the third reading of a resolution to purchase two properties owned by Buck Wilkin, a storage building and what is commonly called the Armintrout building. This is written prior to Monday’s full council meeting, but it’s assumed council will adopt the recommendation to hold things up.
I believe every member of council and everyone in city government is committed to the success of the city and is sincere in his or her effort to make Hillsboro the best it can be. Good people, every one of them. But every member of council, and everyone holding a position of responsibility within the city, has a fiduciary duty beyond being mere caretakers.
The purchase of the Armintrout building is part of the overall plan to construct an uptown plaza in Hillsboro where Gov. Trimble Place exists. It is easy to claim to be in favor of the plaza, but the city’s actual commitment to it will be demonstrated when some funds are expended toward its realization.
Unfortunately, cold feet have set in due to other events, including a judgment in favor of a former city employee because of an administrative mistake made more than a decade ago. The city is asking for the appeals court to reconsider its decision, but if the judgment stands, exactly what the city will end up having to pay is unknown. There are some in the city suggesting we should be ready to fork over a big check without much of a fight over its amount, which is not how it has to be regardless of what some say.
Prior to Thursday’s committee meeting, some council members and other city officials made emergency visits to other council members to try to convince them that the purchase of the buildings should be delayed. The message was perhaps not quite “the sky is falling,” but it was at least “the sky might fall, so we better change our plans.”
People who are elected to offices that control government purse strings are given two responsibilities of equal importance. First, they are charged with being good fiscal stewards, doing their best to provide essential services such as police, fire, water and sewer, and making sure streets are upgraded and the budget is balanced.
The second responsibility is one that takes more fortitude and is accomplished with less regularity – to be innovative, forward-looking and proactive in the pursuit of new initiatives. More times than not, councils, boards and commissions either don’t come up with such ideas to begin with, or, when they do, they are easily frightened away by unforeseen developments. I admire those who are devoted to new projects, and when I decide which candidate for county commissioner to vote for this November, it will be for the one most dedicated to pursuing new initiatives for the future, rather than just caretaking the present.
Hillsboro is on track to have a $700,000 carryover in place for the end of 2016. One reason the carryover is so healthy is because tax collections have improved, and also because of bold decisions supported by the mayor and other elected officials such as replacing Hillsboro Fire & Rescue. The whole idea was to free up money for other things. We did not suffer through that controversy only to be frozen in our tracks by a lawsuit by a former city employee. Keep in mind that the $115,000 for the purchase of the buildings will not come out of the carryover. It is already budgeted this year.
Why do municipalities want carryovers? In case of emergencies or unexpected costs. When the unexpected happens, insisting on cuts or delays in order to maintain the same carryover, or something close to it, contradicts the purpose of having the carryover in the first place. No one wants carryovers to trend downward every year, as happened a few years ago. But a carryover exists as a buffer against making other cuts or surrendering to delays, not a permanent treasure to be endlessly admired at the cost of future initiatives.
We should not borrow from Progress to fund Management, even when unforeseen expenses occur. Delaying progress always comes with ready-made reasons, usually couched as “prudence” or “fiscal restraint.” It is in reality quicksand. Where there is a will, there is a way, as the city has often demonstrated over the years when it really wants something, and you can come up with your own examples. The question is, is there really a will? Doing everything that needs to be done isn’t easy. If it was easy, anyone could do it.
When it comes to new initiatives, “yes we can” needs to defeat “no we can’t.” Too often, even with all good intentions, local government leaders take the risk-averse road that guarantees undertaking nothing new. Choosing stagnation in the name of prudence is surrendering to fear. Be bold. Manage the unexpected, but don’t let progress be its victim.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.