Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Justin Harsha, Mary Stanforth, Ann Morris, Tom Eichinger, Patty Day, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP photo by Caitlin Forsha.)
Pictured (l-r) are Hillsboro city council members Justin Harsha, Mary Stanforth, Ann Morris, Tom Eichinger, Patty Day, Brandon Leeth and Adam Wilkin. Also pictured is council clerk Heather Collins. (HCP photo by Caitlin Forsha.)
Hillsboro city council spent almost half of their Monday, Aug. 12 meeting listening to concerns from two citizens who spoke at length about the alleged mistreatment of uptown property and business owners by city administration – particularly the recently fired city code enforcement officer – and issues they have faced in repairing or maintaining these properties.

Jeff Parks spoke on behalf of the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group, LLC, saying he was their “public relations” representative. As previously reported by The Highland County Press, on Aug. 6, attorneys for the investment group filed an 80-page notice of appeal by adjudication order by now-former Hillsboro building inspector Anton Weissmann in Highland County Common Pleas Court.

The case involves a number of properties currently or formerly owned by Jack Hope in uptown Hillsboro, including 125, 127, 129, 131, 133 and 135 West Main Street. The Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group entered negotiations to purchase all of these properties except 135 West Main Street in April. Court documents say that Weissmann “placed the properties … as ‘uninhabitable’ and subject to a fine and prosecution,’ and that ‘demolition of the property can occur.’”

In April, several of the buildings, among others, were deemed uninhabitable by the city's building inspector. The city placed notices on a number of former or current businesses that read: "This building is unfit for human habitation. The use or occupancy of this building for human habitation is prohibited and unlawful."

“We’re the guys with the buildings downtown,” Parks told council. “We’re the guys who are, supposedly, causing all kinds of trouble.

“My job is to make sure you know David Osborne and his son, D.J., have been treated amazingly. I don’t say that in a good way.”

After Parks distributed a two-page document to council members, he told council, “We have major concerns.”

Parks then read the Fourth Amendment and discussed its history. (The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”)

Parks said there is a “misconception” that the row of buildings on West Main Street owned by the investment group need “to come down.” “That is absolutely not true,” Parks said, adding that a report by a structural engineer hired by the city proved otherwise.

“We’re being treated awfully special by the city of Hillsboro,” Parks said. “We’re tired of being treated special. We never wanted to be special. We just want to come in here and do a good job and restore some beautiful buildings and turn them into something you all can be proud of. That’s really not working out for us right now, and that’s a real problem.”

Parks told council that Larry Barr, whose family owns Momma’s West Main Cafe – which has been closed since June 3, when a building on West Main Street collapsed – was visited by Hastings and Weissmann at the restaurant. Barr “let them in the staircase” at his building (owned by Jack Hope) after administrators told him they couldn’t access another property they were interested in purchasing, according to Parks.

According to Parks, the engineer inspecting the building reportedly told Barr he “doesn’t know who would condemn a building like this” and that while it needs repairs, they’re “addressable.”

“So why do we have stickers on the building?” Parks asked.

Parks then alleged that Weissmann is “not an engineer” and that he doesn’t have a degree from the University of Cincinnati, which is the college listed on Weissmann’s résumé, before asking: “How’d he get this job?”

“Are you not aware that he used to work for the city of Covington (Ky.)?” Parks asked. “He got fired. You can see video of him online using the ‘f’ word in that city’s council meeting about how it was so terrible, him getting fired.”

At that point, council president Tom Eichinger interrupted Parks, who had been speaking for over 13 minutes.

“First of all, Mr. Weissmann is no longer with the city, and I would like to wrap this up,” Eichinger said. “We’re taking on a tremendous amount of time here. I appreciate that you’ve got things that you’re concerned about, but could you get to the bottom line for us? Because we will have to address this.”

Parks said he would focus on “why we’re being treated special.” According to Parks, in the investors’ first meeting with city administration, allegedly “in the first five minutes, Drew Hastings says to D.J., ‘our crack legal team will chew you up and spit you out.’”

As previously reported, David Osborne, Sr. also referenced that meeting in a Monday, June 10 address to Hillsboro city council. In that address, Osborne said: “Early in the meeting Mr. Hastings looked at my son and said ‘my crack legal team will chew you up.’ Mr. Hastings made things worse by giving me legal advice to withdraw from the contract and lose what money I had put down.”

Parks asked council: “Who greets new money to the city in that fashion?”

“Who greets new money – energetic folks just doing their thing – with threats in the first 10 minutes?” Parks asked. “Why are we so special? Well, you know, Hastings at one time turned down an opportunity to buy our buildings for $30,000, per the real estate agent involved in the transaction. Can I say ‘conflict of interest’ without anybody getting too wired up? I mean, do I really have to say more?”

According to Parks, members of the investment group are seeking “to get the contract honored and the deed transferred.” Parks said that former safety and service director Mel McKenzie, who has since resigned, allegedly told the investors their deed transfer “can’t be approved until the mayor sees it.”

“We’ve got thousands of dollars now in additional legal fees. We’ve had to hire engineers to prove our point, after you proved it for us," Parks said.

“These guys are here to stay. They’re your friends. They’re qualified. They’re your allies. How about no more threats? How about just treat us like everybody else?”

After Parks finished speaking, Jeretta Barr, co-owner of Momma’s West Main Cafe, also addressed council about Weissmann and the inspections done to their restaurant. As aforementioned, the restaurant has been closed since June 3. Barr told council that in March, the Barrs were “under contract to purchase our building at 131-133 West Main Street with funding from the city’s Revolving Loan Fund.”

As previously reported, Bobbie Barr told The Highland County Press in April that the city had awarded the restaurant $60,000 through the revolving loan fund but later withdrew the loan. The Barrs said the mayor, who owns rental properties in the uptown area, then offered to show one of his properties for a possible lease agreement.

“Back on April 13, we hired a licensed state structural engineer after a questionable inspection was performed on our building, the AAA building and the Parker Hotel by Mr. Anton Weissmann, Mr. Mel McKenzie and Mr. Drew Hastings on April 2, 2019,” Barr said. “This report states that our building is sound, and only has a few maintenance issues that need to be taken care of. The city is aware of this report. Because of that inspection, we lost our funding to purchase the building.”

Barr said their building received one of the “uninhabitable” notices April 16.

“There was no 30-day notice given, which should have been, according to policy,” Barr told council.

Barr echoed Parks’ concerns that the city’s structural engineer “contradicted everything Mr. Weissmann said.”

Barr then spoke about their restaurant being closed for “70 days and counting” and asked the city to take action to remedy the situation. Although U.S. 50 is reopened to traffic – after being closed for 56 days, following the building’s collapse – concrete barriers still block the restaurant’s entrance, including the parking spaces in front of the restaurant.

Barr said the alley adjoining the collapsed building had already “been closed for about a year.”

“[The collapsed building] is also five buildings and an alley away from us, all the way at the other end,” Barr said. “Yet, the city chose to block the entire road all the way past the restaurant to the other alley, past the hotel.”

Barr said the Osbornes have hired engineers who’ve confirmed the restaurant’s building was “not affected by the collapse” of the other building.

“If the city is truly concerned that the Parker Hotel is going to fall, then why have the apartments that share the alley with that hotel not been evacuated?” Barr asked. “Because a building that size is not going to fall into Momma’s. A building that size is not going to fall uphill. That building, if it’s truly going to fall, is going to fall downhill and going to crush those residents.”

“With Momma’s being closed, we now have 10 people unemployed for 70 days and counting,” Barr said. “Ten families have been devastated by this. We have several local vendors that have lost sales. Not only have you directly affected Momma’s employees and families, it has negatively impacted our local suppliers as well. So much for supporting our community.”

Barr concluded by making requests on behalf of her business as well as asking them to allow the investment group to “start repairs.”

“We ask you to reverse the injunction that was falsely placed on our properties, remove the stickers and let the Osbornes start repairs and their remodel,” Barr said. “How much more proof do you need?

“You have finally opened the street for traffic, the collapse zone theory is no longer valid, now please open the parking so we can operate our business.”

There was no direct response to either of the citizens’ comments. As noted, McKenzie and Weissmann are no longer employed by the city, and Hastings was absent from Monday night’s meeting. According to Eichinger, Hastings’ father passed away Monday morning.

• • •

After hearing the ordinance’s third reading, council voted 6-0 Monday night to establish a stormwater utility in the city of Hillsboro.

As previously reported, the idea had been suggested in 2017 by Gary Silcott of Stantec Engineering, who at the time was serving as “consulting safety and service director” for the city. Silcott has also given presentations to the city on how to implement this program.

According to the legislation, “with a base charge, the storm sewer improvements will increase the value and use of parcels in the city.”

“The number of parcels in Hillsboro is approximately 8,813, and the amount of revenue the storm sewer utility would generate at expected ERUs [Equivalent Residential Units], with the cost of loans, the annual service debt through DEFA would approximate $244,000 a year,” the proposed legislation says.

The utility will be funded by local property owners, as “all properties having impervious area within the city shall be assigned an Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU), or a multiple thereof, which will be at a minimum one ERU.” An ERU is “equal to 2,899 square feet of measured impervious area and is equal to the average amount of impervious area of typical residential properties within the city.” Property owners will be charged $5 per month per ERU starting in October.

There was no discussion of the ordinance prior to its passage. For more on the utility and corresponding plans for improvements, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Hillsboro-council-considers-storm-sewer-improvements-South-Central-Power-to-leave-city/2/20/50909.

• • •

Also related to the utilities committee, council voted 6-0 to pass three resolutions for upcoming sewer repairs, awarding each respective “lowest and best bid” to Distel Construction, Inc..

Council authorized the safety and service director to accept:

• A bid for the construction of the Northview Trunk Line Project in the sum of $901,931.80. Pursuant to the city’s engineer, an additional 10 percent will be included for contingencies, for a total of $992,125.

• A bid for the construction of the Vaughn Area Trunk Line Replacement Project in the sum of $428,923.60. Pursuant to the city’s engineer, an additional 10 percent will be included for contingencies for a total of $471,816.

• A bid for the construction of the Comprehensive Storm Sewer Phase 1 Project in the sum of $837,562.15. Pursuant to the city’s engineer, an additional 10 percent will be included for contingencies for a total of $921,319.

Prior to the vote, utilities committee chair Brandon Leeth asked for background on the contractor.

“Did everyone do their homework and research that company who submitted the bid?” Leeth asked. “Were there any specs? Did they meet the specs? Are they a good company to use?”

Public works administrator Shawn Adkins said the city has “used them in the past.”

“Did they do a good job?” Leeth asked.

“Yes,” Adkins said. “We didn’t have any issues with them.”

• • •

Council voted 6-0 to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt an ordinance to assess the cost of legal fees to Revolving Loan Fund transactions in breach or default.

According to the ordinance, “In any case wherein the Revolving Loan Fund Committee must bring collection or other enforcement action necessitated by the breach, violation or default of a loan recipient, the legal fees incurred by the City or the Revolving Loan Fund Committee in consulting counsel, litigating the matter in court or negotiating, including alternative dispute resolution, shall be assessed to the loan recipient or the loan recipient’s successor in interest.”

Council member Mary Stanforth said she had “several questions” on the ordinance before the vote, beginning with asking the current number of revolving loans. Eichinger and administrative assistant Kimberly Newman responded that there are nine.

“The current amount on loan is $216,412.56,” Eichinger said. “The total for the three defaulted loans is $93,909.49.”

“How long have they been in default?” Stanforth asked. “When were these given out, and why is it taking so long?”

Eichinger said he did not know.

“There’s been letters to them,” Newman said. “They have come to meetings and they have not complied.”

City law director Fred Beery told Stanforth “foreclosure procedures are pretty extensive now.”

“To go in and foreclose, there’s mandatory reconciliations that are made,” Beery said. “There’s mandatory mediation.”

Stanforth then asked Barr if Momma’s West Main Cafe had a revolving loan.

“We do, correct,” Barr said. “We have one from when we originally purchased the restaurant two years ago, and we borrowed $50,000 from the city. We have not missed a payment in two years, so we are not part of the ones that have defaulted.”

“That’s great,” Stanforth said.

Stanforth then asked if the loans can be rescinded. “Once they get the loan, what’s the procedure to get the money back?” she asked. “Is it foreclosure steps?”

“Typically, what happens is the bank will typically foreclose, and we’re just add-ins, involuntary parties,” Beery said. “Rarely is it initiated by the city, but occasionally it can be.”

• • •

Council also voted 6-0 to approve a negotiated labor agreement between the city of Hillsboro and the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council Inc.

The resolution was to “ratify and approve the Collective Bargaining Agreement entered into between the City of Hillsboro and the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council Inc. effective retroactively to Jan. 1, 2019, until Dec. 31, 2021, together with the supplemental agreement appended.”

Leeth asked if both sides were “pretty pleased” with the agreement.

“More or less it’s the status quo on wages and health care,” Hillsboro police chief Eric Daniels said.

Safety and service director Dick Donley said that further negotiations “automatically come up next year.”

• • •

In his first report as safety and service director, Donley thanked his predecessor McKenzie “for his service to the city.”

Donley said that he is still getting “caught up” on various issues facing his office and said he will work to “address” the concerns presented by Parks and Barr.

“I’m starting my third week, so I’m trying to orient myself a little bit,” Donley said. “We heard a lot of issues here tonight. Those issues will be addressed, I guarantee you, and hopefully, we can come to a resolution that pleases everyone.”

Also during his report, Donley encouraged citizens to be mindful of school buses as Hillsboro City Schools begin classes this week and not to “risk safety” while driving. He concluded Monday night’s meeting by thanking Adkins for “working tirelessly” on the city’s infrastructure projects.

• • •

Property maintenance and restoration committee chair Ann Morris reported that her committee recently met to discuss several topics, including “what to do with the old firehouse;” a possible council chambers for the second floor of the city building; “the fate of the Parker House;” new signage for the city’s entrances; and possible charging stations for electric cars. Morris said the charging station topic was placed in the street and safety committee, with administration also electing to consider the idea “from a municipality point of view.”

• • •

Council also voted 6-0 Monday to approve a resolution authorizing the auditor to increase appropriations by $30,000 in the 202 State Highway Fund, specifically in line item 202.621.523420 – Engineering, to accommodate expenses for the City’s TAP Grant.

• • •

Also during Monday night’s meeting:

• Under communications, council clerk Heather Collins advised that Hastings and city council received a letter, dated July 23, from “an attorney representing Linda Doerger in regard to a pending legal matter.” (Doerger is the daughter of Jack Hope.)

• Prior to the regular city council meeting, council members and numerous citizens heard a presentation on the 2020 census from Samuel Knight, Census Bureau partnership specialist. Knight spoke about forming a community Complete Count Committee (CCC) and the importance of raising awareness across the community.

Knight told council that Ross County and its respective municipalities are working together form a CCC and that he hopes to see the same for Highland County.

• Approximately halfway through the meeting, council members, Donley, Newman, Beery and local attorney Kathryn Hapner entered into an executive session for just under 30 minutes. The executive session was held at Donley’s request “for discussion of legal matters.”

• In addition to Hastings, council member Claudia Klein was also absent due to being on vacation. Council voted 6-0 to excuse her absence.