It wasn't the kind of publicity anyone desired, but the conviction of a former Hilliard employee and its aftershocks were seismic enough to lead the top 5 storylines for 2018.

GUILTY PLEA -- In October, Heather H. Ernst, Hilliard's former deputy director of recreation and parks, pleaded guilty to one count of theft in office and one count of attempted tampering with records and was sentenced in November to 12 months in prison and three years of community service, and she was ordered to pay restitution to Hilliard in the amount of $271,898.

The city also filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst, 48, in March. The civil complaint said that during the course of Ernst's employment with the city, the "defendants (Ernst and husband Moses Ernst) retained at least $541,000, depositing at least $270,000 into accounts owned or controlled by the defendants."

The civil trial is scheduled to begin in October 2019. The theft, which investigators said involved daily cash admission fees from the city's two pool facilities, motivated Hilliard City Council to launch an audit of the city's overall financial controls and accounting practices.

Heather H. Ernst’s attorney withdraws from Hilliard civil case

Hilliard’s Heather H. Ernst sentenced to year in prison

====

CHANGING OF THE GUARD -- The latest change in Hilliard's political landscape came in November when voters approved a city-charter amendment that shifted the city to a city-manager form of government in lieu of the strong-mayor model, which will remain in place until Jan. 1, 2020.

In a city-manager form of government, the city manager is appointed by City Council and oversees the day-to-day operations of a city in lieu of an elected mayor.

Proponents and opponents of each model of local government stated their case in 2018 while underscoring the disagreements between City Council and the administration on key policies.

Les Carrier: ‘Let’s get going’ on Hilliard city-manager search

Approved charter amendment means Hilliard will switch to city manager

Manager or mayor? Hilliard voters must decide via Issue 33

Will Hilliard move to a city manager-council form of government?

====

BRANCHING OUT -- The newest and largest branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library opened in June on Hickory Chase Way.

Library officials touted Hilliard's 2-story, 63,000-square-foot library as the model of the system's 21st-century library, with sprawling open spaces, activity centers, natural lighting and, in Hilliard's case, a cafe where beverages and pastries are available for purchase.

The new library became the centerpiece of the Hickory Chase retail-and-residential development. It replaced the 20,000-square-foot branch at 4772 Cemetery Road that had been open since 1996.

Crowds pack new Hilliard library branch on opening night

New Hilliard library will open June 21

====

FINDING THE LANDMARK -- Though there is no danger of a Cessna touching down on Cemetery Road, the brightly lighted Landmark Lofts, a mixed-use development at the corner of Cemetery Road and Franklin Street, changed the local landscape.

Tenants began moving into the first of 204 apartments in March and three businesses, Daylight Donuts and Cafe, Yabo's Tacos and Renovo Fitness, had opened by mid-December.

Yabo’s Tacos’ ‘quiet’ debut in Hilliard anything but hushed

Landmark Lofts nears completion

====

NEW BEGINNINGS FOR MEMORIAL -- Hilliard City Schools in August opened a new Memorial Middle School.

The $34 million, 140,000-square-foot building, adjacent to Hilliard Bradley High School, 2800 Walker Road, replaced the former Memorial at 5600 Scioto Darby Road. That building was rebranded as Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School.

The former Station at 3859 Main St., was repurposed as part of the district's expanded Innovation Campus.

Residents, students get first look at new Hilliard Memorial Middle School

District will unveil Hilliard Memorial Middle School on Aug. 13

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo