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Covington Turns Corner with Structural Changes at City Hall

"We ask for your patience and for you to bear with us," City Manager Larry Klein said Tuesday night at the beginning of a two-and-half hour-long meeting of the Covington City Commission. Fifty items made up the lengthy agenda that spelled out the most significant changes to hit City Hall in decades. The full force of the Management Partners report, compiled by a Cincinnati-based consulting firm to increase efficiencies and effectiveness at City Hall, was laid out with in a series of 4-1 votes where Commissioner Shawn Masters found himself as the sole voice on the losing end, announcing that he opposed most of the recommended changes. 

"A few of these are not pleasant," Klein said. "They are hard decisions and should not be a judgment on anyone. We are losing some good employees." But with the official changes to code enforcement, which includes the severance of multiple employees in code enforcement to make way for the department's restructuring to include three full-time officers and four part-time inspectors, the city commission also welcomed some new faces and assigned more familiar ones to newer responsibilities. 

A severance package was approved for the code enforcement officers let go from their duties, including director Keith Bales. They will be paid through early December and receive one week's pay for each year of service on top of that. Mildred Rains, who once led the city's code enforcement and who is running for city commission blasted the decision at the end of the meeting during public comments. "What you've done to code enforcement is deplorable," Rains said, questioning where the money came from to pay for the severance since the intention of the elimination of positions was to save cash. "Between the city manager and (City Commissioner) Sherry Carran, they hate code enforcement. Keith (Bales) quit a good job to come work for the city and now what's he going to do?" Klein countered that even with the severance packages, the savings still hit the $500,000 target.

The commission also unanimously approved an interlocal agreement that will allow the City and the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission, which enables the City to operate with its restructured code enforcement department. The city's building inspector was reassigned to the code enforcement department. There was also a first reading of an ordinance that will be voted on at the commission's next meeting that will add to the list of criminal offenses for which a property owner can face code violations if the crimes happen on that property. Those additional crimes include alcohol intoxication, menacing, assault, terroristic threatening, and resisting arrest. 

A fee schedule for the new tasks to be handled by NKAPC also got a first reading and will be voted on at the next regular commission meeting. "While we are moving the (building permit) process from City Hall we will maintain intake here," said assistant city manager for development Larisa Sims. She explained that the new fee structure will cost people in Covington ten-percent more than usual, or about $27 more for the construction of a 1,800 square foot home. Zoning and the board of adjustments will remain at City Hall.

Other changes to the structure of City Hall include:

  • City Solicitor Frank Warnock will now be assistant city manager for administration. It was made public Tuesday that Warnock had been offered the number-three job within Louisville's metro government, but stayed in Covington to assume these new responsibilities. "This has been a life goal for me," Warnock said before quoting a piece of advice his father game him. "Work hard and be honest and everything else will fall into place. Klein called Warnock the best asset the city has while Carran called him "the peacemaker" for his work in bringing different sides together, particularly during union contract negotiations. 
  • Assistant city engineer Mike Yeager will now be the community services manager at an annual salary of $91,379. Yeager, who has been with Covington since 2008 will oversee the code enforcement department, planning & preservation, and zoning.
  • Former recreation director Natalie Gardner will now be the programs and strategic projects manager at an annual salary of $62,034. She will work directly under Sims and together they will oversee Renaissance Covington, the receration specialist, the grants administrator, the Community Development Block Grant (federal) funds, the federal HOME funds, and the housing specialist. 
  • Cindy Swegles was appointed as the newly created recreation specialist at an annual salary of $45,000.
  • Naashom Marx was appointed to the newly created position of business development manager at an annual salary of $60,000. Marx was a highly coveted hire who comes to the City from the Northern Kentucky Area Development District where she assisted eight counties in their efforts to create business incentives through the state. Sims, Mayor Chuck Scheper, and Commissioner Steve Casper had all made efforts to get Marx to come work for the city in the past. 
  • Former ombudsman Suzann Gettys will now serve as the business retention specialist (Gettys explanation of how neighborhoods who had grown accustomed to her services and the changes related to that will be explored in a later article)
  • The solid waste coordinator position was transferred to the department of public improvements

Even that long list of items was just about half of the agenda. Look for more coverage from Tuesday's historic meeting soon right here at RCN.