HILLSBORO — A Hillsboro city ordinance requiring the safety and service director to attend all city council meetings has thrown a wrench into Mayor Drew Hastings’ and Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie’s boycott of council meetings, which was spurred by an ongoing conflict between the Hastings administration and council leadership.
While the mayor is not required to attend meetings, City of Hillsboro Ordinance 30.13 says the safety and service director “shall attend all meetings of the City Council, unless excused by the Council. He shall keep the Council fully advised as to the financial needs of the city.”
Hillsboro Law Director Fred Beery told The Times-Gazette that the ordinance is law, and that McKenzie “might not realize there’s a standing request from council” that he be in attendance.
“Nobody actually asked me about it before, or I would have explained it,” he said. “I’m thinking that’s all it is, a misunderstanding about priorities.”
McKenzie told The Times-Gazette on Thursday that he hasn’t decided whether or not he will attend council’s meeting next month.
“If our law director tells me that by law I have to be there, I don’t have a problem going,” he said. “I don’t have a plan for next month as far as going or not going. I’m going to continue doing the day-to-day work of the city.”
As previously reported, Hastings and McKenzie did not attend Monday’s monthly council meeting, and both said on Tuesday that they do not plan to attend meetings until council President Lee Koogler and Clerk Heather Collins show more cooperation with the administration.
The mayor said on Wednesday that the administration’s specific demands are “to get timely receipt of legislation that has passed, the most recent council minutes… and we’d like to get an agenda so we can plan for upcoming council meetings.”
The recent spat began when the agenda for Monday’s meeting was only sent to council members prior to the meeting and not to the administration or the public. Hastings said he believed that was intentional on the part of Collins, but Collins said it was a mistake due to her family vacation at the Highland County Fair and other factors.
When Hastings was asked how he will order McKenzie to proceed, the mayor said, “Our next move is to wait and see… if things improve and we start getting what we’ve asked for in a timely manner.”
McKenzie said no matter what Hastings tells him to do, he will “follow the law no matter what.”
“If me doing something by the law costs me my job or strains the relationship between Drew and I, so be it,” McKenzie said. “I’ll never do anything for anyone that’s against the law, and I really don’t think Drew would expect that.”
Koogler said he hasn’t decided how to proceed as president of council.
“I’m going to try to do things constructively and we’ll go from there,” he said. “I’ve been weighing my options the last two days and I continue to think through the issues.”
When Hastings was first asked to respond to the ordinance, the mayor said, “There’s also a requirement for the president of council to be present at council meetings, and he more than anybody over the last couple years has had numerous absences, most of them last-minute.”
Koogler admitted he has “missed more council than I care to,” due to health problems that he said are now resolved.
“I will continue to attend council meetings regularly,” he said.
Koogler added that the president of council’s statutory duty is to preside over council meetings, and “over the years I’ve gone far and above that in the duties I’ve performed. I may not always perform my duties up to the level of expectation of the mayor… He may not always fulfill his role to my expectations as well.”
Council members had mixed responses to the conflict.
Councilman Justin Harsha said “communication is just a big problem. It has been for some time. If they had a problem or didn’t receive agendas, it would have been a simple phone call to find out what was going on… They would have found it was a simple mistake and they would have their agendas. It’s pretty simple.”
Harsha said when he had confusion over a meeting notice with Collins, “I called her and asked her and she resolved the problem.”
Councilwoman Wendy Culbreath said while she believes Hastings and McKenzie “have a point” in their protest, they should find a different way to make it.
“I want them to know that they need to be able to make points, but boycotting City Hall? There’s got to be a different way,” she said.
Culbreath said while Collins has made mistakes and they should be dealt with, Hastings and McKenzie “should have come anyway… that would have been the adult thing to do.”
Councilman Brandon Leeth said Hastings’ and Koogler’s relationship doesn’t affect council.
“I don’t see it affecting council at all,” he said. “We’re going to do our jobs regardless of how people feel about each other.”
However, he said, “we’ve got to put the emotions and the feelings aside and move forward… That’s something they’re going to have to figure out themselves.”
Councilwoman Claudia Klein said, “It’s time to put personalities aside and start thinking about the citizens of this town… There comes a point where you have to agree to disagree and move on.”
Councilman Adam Wilkin said he’s “not sure what to think yet.”
“I think Drew could have gone about it a different way,” he said. “I don’t know what message he’s trying to send.”
Wilkin added that he has “not a bad word to say” about Koogler and Collins.
Councilwoman Mary Stanforth said bad blood between Hastings and Koogler has “a detrimental effect on council because it takes away from the important matters we’re supposed to be working on.”
“I would just like to see these guys put aside their personal differences and concentrate on what’s best for the city,” she said. “I feel we have to provide a unified front to the citizens that we’re working together for the betterment of our community.”
Councilwoman Ann Morris declined to comment.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.