An Open Letter To Jeff Hern
I have known you nearly as long as I have written a local Fishers news blog, and that goes back to 2012. I have always found you a friendly and engaging person. From everything I know, you did a good job as Fall Creek Township Trustee, a position that required you to help needy people in a generally affluent area. As you know, just because Fall Creek Township contains lots of wealth, there are still plenty of people in need and you worked to help many of them get through tough times.
When allegations came to light last year that some campaign signs of a county council political opponent, Rick McKinney, had gone missing, I always gave you the benefit of the doubt when many were pointing the finger at you as the culprit. I have learned through my many years of reporting that the legal process is long and detailed. Everyone should be allowed to make their case under the law.
When a special prosecutor was brought in from Hancock County and a judge from outside Hamilton County were assigned your case, I watched and waited. You were charged with a misdemeanor in October of 2016 in connection with the campaign sign incident.
You have now entered into a plea agreement, which is basically a diversion program. You have signed a statement pleading guilty to criminal mischief. You have promised to pay $891 to Rick McKinney as reimbursement for his campaign signs that went missing. You also are required to issue a letter of apology to Councilman McKinney. These are all facts on the record.
At the June 7th meeting, a majority of your Hamilton County Council colleagues voted to censure you. A censure is a statement by your peers that you have done something wrong, in their view.
I read your statement before the council as printed in the June 8th edition of the Hamilton County Reporter. I must admit that I am puzzled.
You signed a legal document pleading guilty to criminal mischief, yet you talked about the fact that there is no arrest or mug shot. You talk about how expensive it would be to fight the charge in a court proceeding, and I get that. But you also appeared to belittle the apology and restitution payment required under the plea arrangement.
You made some vague remarks about items stolen from your car, an electrical storm preventing gates from being shut and items stolen from your unlocked car. You talked about how you can work on being a better person.
When Chris Sikich of the Indianapolis Star pressed you on why you say you admitted no guilt after signing a legal document pleading guilty to a charge of criminal mischief, you referred the reporter to your attorney.
Jeff, I’m sorry, but that won’t fly. Your political career is likely over. It is your decision to stay in office or resign as a result of all this, but as things stand, your political future may have come to an end. It is difficult for me to imagine you winning another election.
There is a way for you to come out of your current political hole. You need to come clean. Talk about everything in detail.
If the argument is that you are the victim here, you must tell your story. You must explain everything. You must subject yourself to tough questions and answer them all.
But if, in fact, you have done anything wrong, you need to publicly apologize, not just to those you may have harmed in all this, but you must apologize to the citizens of Hamilton County.
If you fail to do that, every election campaign you conduct from now on will rehash all this, and it will not be pleasant for you.
I take no joy in writing this letter. But I must be honest with you. The decision on how to move forward is yours and yours alone.
Please think about what I have written in this letter.