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Changes at Police Dept Include New Asst Chief, Top Dispatcher Retires

Tuesday night's City Commission meeting featured an agenda with fifty items on it, including several related to the Covington Police Department and the former 911 emergency dispatch center. Mayor Chuck Scheper and the four commissioners unanimously approved the reduction in the number of sergeant positions from fifteen to fourteen, part of the department's effort to cut half a million dollars from its budget. That move, like the other position reductions, will be conducted through attrition, meaning the positions will be eliminated following retirements and promotions only. A sergeant in the department retired over the summer.

The commission also listened to a first reading of the ordinance that will reduce the number of captain positions in the police department from four to three, though the eventual goal is to eliminate all captain positions. That issue will be voted on at the next meeting. "The plan is to have a new organizational structure as these captains retire," said Police Chief Spike Jones. "This prevents us from having to lay off ground-level employees who are out there serving the community."

Captain Bryan Carter's position was freed up and poised for elimination following his unanimous appointment to serve as one of two assistant chiefs. Carter has been with the department for twenty-two years and holds a bachelor's degree from Northern Kentucky University and a Master's degree from Xavier University. 

A few other items on the agenda mark the official end of dispatch operations in Covington which will now be handled by the Kenton County Police Department, a move expected to save the city $5 million over the next five years. The City reached an agreement with AFSCME, the union that represented the sixteen dispatchers, which City Solicitor Frank Warnock explained was standard procedure when a "shut down agreement" is needed. The agreement also puts to bed a pending lawsuit against the city filed by the union in relation to the shut down of the dispatch center. Twelve employees from Covington were hired on at the County, though they will not be represented by any union.

The commission also approved a separation agreement with twenty employees, including the sixteen from the dispatch center and four others from code enforcement and elsewhere. "It's a very sad thing that we have to confront," Warnock said. "It's not a very pleasant task but we've put something together to help ease the transition."

Jim Gardner, who had long been the face of Covington's dispatch center, officially retired from the city. Chief Jones recalled meeting Gardner when Spike was first hired by the department in 1988. He talked about working third shift and how if a dangerous situation was unfolding, it was Gardner on the other end of the radio that officers would want to hear. Similar praise was bestowed upon Gardner by the city commission and administrators. "He's one of the best employees the city has ever had," Warnock said, noting that Gardner was a "tough negotiator" during union contract talks, a sentiment echoed by City Manager Larry Klein.

"I won't miss that part," Klein said. Several commissioners thanked Gardner for leading the transition of dispatch services to the county. Gardner offered his own thoughts, saying that he enjoyed his time in the city.

"It's been a good ride," he said. "It's not like I'm going anywhere. However I can help the city, I'll be there." Gardner can often be seen working on volunteer days along the Licking River Greenway & Trails, an effort led by his daughter Natalie Gardner who served as Covington's recreation director before being named to a new position Tuesday.

Elsewhere, police cadet Quintin McHale resigned from that position to be hired as a part-time Devou Park Ranger. Chief Jones said the department is currently reviewing applicants for the open cadet position.

PHOTO: Chief Spike Jones congratulates Assistant Chief Bryan Carter/RCN