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Wide Ranging Issues Covered at Third City Commission Debate

The candidates for Covington City Commission answered questions and asked a question of fellow candidates at Wednesday's debate at the American Legion Hall in Latonia. Moderated by former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Patrick Crowley (who noted that he did not create any of the questions so as not to have a conflict of interest in his new role as a lobbyist) and sponsored by various Covington civic groups, the debate lasted roughly ninety minutes and will be broadcast soon on Insight Cable. 

Question: How would you support growth in Covington?

"We have a number of sites in the City crying out for redevelopment as we see in Over-the-Rhine and the Banks (in Cincinnati)," said candidate Chuck Eilerman, a commercial real estate agent. "There are developments in the wings waiting for the city to bring in new residents, businesses," and a new tax base, he said. "We also have a number of city (owned) properties in strategic locations that ought to be sold or redeveloped with private partners."

"The Catalytic (Development) Fund is going to be essential toward the redevelopment efforts on the properties in Covington," said incumbent City Commissioner Steve Frank who is seeking a second term. "(Mayor) Chuck (Scheper) is going to remain involved in the City as chairman and between his rolodex and some of the tax incremental financing we're bringing in, we'll be able to bring in a lot of opportunities in real estate and business.. Frank also noted the importance of the proposed urban campus for Gateway College and a program there called Square One that will teach its students how to start businesses.

"I think what we have to do is rebuild the neighborhoods one at a time," said Greg Paeth, a retired reporter who worked for the Kentucky Post. "I think we have to attract new residents and I think once we can fill up some of the homes and some of the apartment buildings, the businesses will follow." Paeth also called the possible Gateway urban campus "absolutely transformative".

"We need to get more businesses in Covington and need to hire an economic development director that knows what they're doing," said Mildred Rains, a former appointed City Commissioner running for a full term and who retired as a department head at City Hall. "We need to clean up the infrastructure in the City and assure them there are enough firefighters and police officers."

"I think it's important that we focus on the fact that we are not Cincinnati and that we cannot compete with Cincinnati," said write-in candidate Chip Terry, a recently retired assistant chief in the Covington Fire Department. "We have a great environment in which we can grow small businesses. We need to develop a pipeline that will allow small businesses to get started, grow, and incubate.." Terry supports incentives to help small businesses become larger.

"We're going to accumulate growth by welcoming the new development of the Gateway campus. That will generate a lot of foot traffic that we're going to need to open small businesses that will be able to sustain this economy," said candidate Michelle Williams, a nonprofit board member. "We also need to look at building the riverfront. We have a lot of land down there and we need foucs on how we're going to develop it."

On continuing Mayor Scheper's efforts

Candidates Neil Gilreath and Roger Hamilton did not attend or provide information for the debate. The candidates who did attend all expressed admiration for Mayor Chuck Scheper, the retired insurance executive that took over the reins on the City Commission when Denny Bowman resigned last fall. "Chuck (Scheper) is a sensational person to work with," Frank said, adding that he would aim to continue the work the mayor has done over the last year, particularly Scheper's highly touted ten-point plan to fix the City's financial woes. "My fingerprints all over the ten-point plan," Frank said. "What Chuck has put in motion, I am dead set to see we continue on with."

"What the city commission has done in the last eight or nine months with the ten-point plan is awfully good," Paeth said. "A lot of energy and time went into putting it together. I think the current city commission has made some bold decisions and done a lot of the heavy lifting that has to be done. I am fully in favor of what they've done and certainly Mayor Scheper will be missed, though I hope he plays an important volunteer role." Scheper did not seek election to a full term. City Commissioners Sherry Carran and Steve Casper will face each other for the top job on November 6. 

"I think it's wonderful that Mayor Scheper has come up with a lot of great ideas," Rains said. "I think it's wonderful, some of the things he's done."

"I think it's important that we move forward, we don't want to go backwards," said Terry. "Now is the time for everyone on the commission to come together and look at what we have in place and make sure we follow the plan. There will be some adjustments needed because right now, we've cut some of the public safety departments to the point that we may not be able to provide the instrumental pieces to make the plan go forward."

 

"I agree with the ten-point plan and a lot of things Scheper has been able to implement, although some things have come as a shock and some things moved faster than we though," Williams said. "Going forward, we need to look at our own plan and put forward our own goals so that you know (the next) commission is serious about getting the job done."
 
"I support anyone named Chuck," joked Chuck Eilerman. "I'm very impressed with what (Scheper) has done. His demeanor, he's very level-headed and straight-forward and brought a calmness and deliberateness that had not been there when he arrived." Eilerman added that he would like to see a second phase of Scheper's ten-point plan since most of its goals, including new union contracts and closing Covington's dispatch center, have been achieved. "By the end of the year we need to look at what the revised plan may be."
 
Mixed opinions on proposed Walgreen's that would require 1800s mansion to be razed
 
The Diocese of Covington owns a piece of property on Martin Luther King Boulevard across from the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption upon which sits what is commonly referred to as the Bishop's Mansion. Though the site has fallen into disrepair, preservationists have spoken out against the Diocese's plans to sell the land to Walgreen's which would place a new store there. Many of the design plans for the proposed store were voted down at a recent meeting of the Covington urban design review board (UDRB). 
 
"Every old home is not significant and every old home can't be redeveloped into a structure that has a new use," said Paeth, who described himself as a preservationist, noting that he was a pioneering resident of the Old Seminary Square neighborhood, renovating his own home. "I know that the property, the Bishop's residence, is not protected by the UDRB for historic standards and can be torn down." But, "I oppose the demolition of that building. I wish the Walgreen's would stay where it is (on Madison Avenue)."
 
"I hate to see the house lost because it is a beautiful old building and we need to preserve all we can," Rains said. "The Walgreen's we have now is fairly new and I wish they would stay where they are."
 
"It's a travesty to turn that corner into another chain store," said Terry. "Let's reuse that building, let's allow that building to return to its grandeur so that our city can return to its grandeur. You can go anywhere in Northern Kentucky and find that type of use. Our strength is our history in what we are as a community. We're not going to draw anybody into this city if we keep building these types of businesses."
 
The other three candidates were more receptive to the idea. "This is a tough call, but the Walgreen's, I do support," said Williams. "One of the solutions I think would be good is if we could relocate the building and then maybe we have a lot less people upset about it. I'm not Catholic but I know this building means a lot to them and I think it's a good idea to think of another option to support the building."
 
"I do support the new Walgreen's there," said Eilerman. "I've been in that building. It's extraordinarily difficult to do anything with." Eilerman noted his own preservationist bonafides, mentioning that he has helped save multiple buildings, including the Jesse Grant House on Greenup Street. "The key here is that we have a design that is a credit to that corner." Eilerman suggested as an aexample a Norwood, Ohio Walgreen's that attempted to blend into its surroundsings.
 
"My family has been intimately involved in preserving a lot of what's great in Covington," said Frank, arguing that his uncle was a key figure in preventing the destruction of the Licking Riverside Historic District. "My heart is in preservation, but this is going to end up in court and the true decision is going to end up in front of a judge. It's not for the city commission to rule on." Frank also added that he is concerned with the logic behind the sale, saying that he believes the Diocese is selling the property to gain cash for its planned renovations to the Lyceum building across from the Cathedral where the Diocese will move its administrative offices, currently housed in the former Saint Elizabeth Hospital North building. "If they stayed at St. E., they could save the property."
 
Look for more from Wednesday's debate coming up later at RCN.
 
PHOTO: Commission candidates prepare to debate in Latonia/RCN