The criminal investigation into Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings began in mid-December of last year, meaning it has plugged along for five months. It’s time to wrap it up and either file charges against the mayor and anyone else under the investigators’ microscope, or announce the case is being dropped.
While officials involved in the investigation are tight-lipped, most indications are that charges will likely be presented to a grand jury. The next scheduled grand jury meeting in Highland County is June 7. Considering the nature of the allegations against the mayor – and possibly against an administrative assistant – it is difficult to believe that investigators, led by the office of state Auditor Dave Yost, cannot have their evidence lined up by then and start the process of giving the accused their day in court – assuming a grand jury agrees that the evidence warrants indictments.
The allegations that we know, through various warrants and affidavits, are as follows:
• Hastings received a $500 rebate of a vacant property fee he had paid without going through the proper steps, and the document authorizing the rebate included the signature of the safety and service director via a signature stamp that was utilized without his approval. The resulting charge would be forgery and possibly tampering with records.
• Hastings used or facilitated the use by others of a city dumpster to dispose of debris from his personal property or properties, and asked an individual to lie about the use of the dumpster. The charges connected to these allegations would be theft of service and obstructing official business.
• Hastings did not live where he claimed to live when he filed to run for mayor in 2011. The charge would be election falsification.
There may be other allegations that have not been brought to light. Charges brought in the Hastings case would likely be a mix of felony and misdemeanor charges, according to those familiar with the case.
There are many people who, when examining the charges item by item, wonder why so much time and effort has been devoted to issues that seem relatively benign compared to most high-profile corruption cases involving government officials or offices. Indeed, the accusations that are known can be viewed as relatively minor, and maybe even easily defensible. And the very nature by which it all began – with the filing of a civil suit brought by five residents who have been outspoken critics of the mayor – opens up the ensuing criminal investigation to suspicions of having political underpinnings. The civil suit was dismissed due to technical issues, but the criminal probe has dragged along at a tortoise pace.
If it happens, we do not agree that criminal behavior by any elected official should be ignored, regardless of the amount of money or level of activity that might be involved, large or small. But we strongly believe that the Hastings investigation involves straightforward allegations on which investigators should be able to expediently act if they believe charges are warranted. City government has suffered waiting for the investigation to wrap up. Projects have been placed on hold, and tensions among city offices have grown more strained by the day.
The mayor and anyone else accused of a crime in this case deserve the right to face their accusers and an opportunity to answer specific charges, rather than suffer an endless parade of rumors and a dark cloud of unproven suspicions. City government needs to move forward. The people of Hillsboro deserve a resolution. We strongly urge investigators to make a decision to present their charges or drop their case by the grand jury’s June 7 session.