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Accusations of Cronyism Surface in “Ugly Sign” Saga

Town administrator is the wife of signshop owner who was awarded the contract.

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Credit: Highland County Press

Spirited debate regarding a newly installed digital sign in Hillsboro, OH continued at a city council meeting last week, during which allegations of a conflict of interest rose to the fore of the proceedings, the Highland County Press reports.

The story began with initial backlash over a sign that was installed in March and paid for with money from a coronavirus relief fund, provided via the CARES Act. Local signshop Chad Abbott Signs was awarded the contract and received $30,000. After the installation, cost and safety concerns were cited alongside a public sentiment that the sign was “ugly” and looked out of place in a historical district.

According to the article, Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha devoted his monthly report to addressing the allegations and defending Brianne Abbot, the city’s safety and service director and the wife of the signshop owner who landed the contract.

Harsha maintained that Abbott didn’t have anything to do with the decision-making process. “Any permits that come in the door, she doesn’t touch, doesn’t look at,” he said. “They go straight to Shawn Adkins or Lauren Walker. They review all of it. If they approve it, I look it over, and I sign it. Nothing ever hits Bree’s desk ever.”

After Harsha’s report, council member Patty Day – a vocal critic of the sign to this point – asked why Abbott “signed her own purchase order” for the sign if there was “no conflict of interest.”

Abbott told the council she has supervisory authority over Adkins, leading to her signing off on the purchase orders as a means of confirmation.

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“I won’t do it again,” she said. “It wasn’t intentional. I would never use this position for personal gain, ever. I apologize if I’ve let anyone down … I didn’t see the quotes on the sign. I didn’t enter into a contract, didn’t hire anyone. Literally, everything I could do to stay from away from it, I attempted to.”

As for the people of Hillsboro, if the comments on HCP’s latest article are an indication of overall sentiment, it’s clear how they feel about the sign and the situation. Here’s a sampling of those comments:

Strange idea…..put the sign on the ballot as to whether it stays or is removed. It was a huge waste of money and is now an ongoing eyesore. I don’t care if it is only a City Vote or County wide. But let the voters decide if it has a use and / or if it was approved in a lawful manner.

– John Daniel Gillespie

The sign is in no way legal and is ugly to boot. It is an industrial design and our uptown is Victorian. Pretty sure that was not how the cares money was intended to be spent. Just too many things wrong with the whole picture. The decent thing would be to refund the money so it can be spent on humanity, and the take the monstrosity down.

– Sharon Love

For anyone trying to make heads or tails of this, and for the completeness of info, the purchase orders for the sign were opened on November 19th, only ten days after the initial vote in council. It seems that the city admin made quick work of settling on using the funds to purchase a sign from CAS.

– Cody Smith

Might be time for a change in our local government.

– Luke Mozingo

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Read more at the Highland County Press.

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