In Unusual Move, Erlanger City Government Now Served by Two Attorneys
In a bizarre and unusual move by a local government, Erlanger City Council officially approved the hiring of two attorneys on Tuesday night at its regular meeting.
By a vote of six to five, (Kevin Burke was not present) Council voted to accept three separate contracts, presented by Councilman Randy Blankenship, which allows the hiring of Jack Gatlin as the City Attorney, and the hiring of Frank Wichmann as City Council Attorney, and finally, the employment of Wichmann to engage in the collection of fines, liens, and unpaid taxes at an hourly rate of $118 per hour, but contingent on the collection of those debts.
Each contract specifies the duties that belong to each attorney and include a cap of $45,000 per year for each. The compromise agreement was reached through negotiations between Blankenship, Erlanger Mayor Tyson Hermes, Gatlin, and Wichmann. After assuming office in January, Hermes opted not to renew Wichmann's contract as city attorney, a position he held for nearly half a century. That prompted a heated meeting in Erlanger where leaders from across the region showed up to voice their support for the ousted attorney. Days later, a special meeting in the city indicated that a compromise resolution would be reached.
"I move that the contracts be adopted," said Blankenship, and councilman John Dunhoft seconded the motion.
But the decision was not without controversy. Councilman Gary Meyer immediately moved to refer the contracts to committee to discuss them, but the defining motion was defeated when put to a vote. Councilwoman Kathy Cahill described how she called the Kentucky League of Cities and spoke to a lawyer who said no city in Kentucky has two lawyers, although a couple were considering it, and that the employment of a second lawyer is a vote of no confidence for the city attorney. In addition, the cost would be excessive, and there would not be enough work for the city council attorney.
These arguments were refuted, with Hermes, Wichmann, Gatlin, and Blankenship all taking turns pointing out that the cost for the two attorneys would be capped and the work load would be split fairly evenly according to the contracts, and no one felt like it was a no confidence vote for the city attorney.
"It is fairly even, and that shows in the fact that (Gatlin) is willing to take it," said Blankenship.
Several members commended the group of four for working together and coming up with a compromise that would not hurt the city, and would in fact, move the city forward. According to the numbers, Council member Vicki Kyle said that the average third party collections for the city came to $92,000, but the city was only billed for $27,000 which left $65,000. This covers the extra $15,000 which could be the cost of having two attorneys. The financial department came up with numbers for the last five years that broke down as $30,000 as a retainer for Wichmann's firm, about $33,000 for hourly rates, and $30,000 for foreclosure and debt collection.
Both attorneys compromised to have a deal that allows the city to have them both at almost the same cost as one attorney was in the past.
One citizen, Georgette Nordloh, stepped up to protest the decision, saying that it compromised the city, and stemmed from a power struggle from who won the election.
"It is a sad day and disrespectful of authority," she concluded.
In other business, council approved continuing with the Kenton County Director of Emergency Management, Steve Hensley, to act for the city of Erlanger, as he has for years.
They also approved TMS Construction as the low bid for the Gateway phase three project.
Several presentations were made at the beginning of the meeting. Eight-year old Caden Martin was given a plaque rewarding him for calling 911 when his dad was unconscious and unresponsive. Fire Chief Todd Whitaker made the presentation.
Kevin Davis was given the pin denoting him officially as a firefighter/EMT, and Mayor Hermes administered the oath of office. Chief Whitaker also gave a 20 year pin to the only female firefighter in Erlanger, Rhonda Wolfe.
The Tichenor Energy Club did an energy audity of the city building, and advised turning things off when not in use, and using LED bulbs, among other things. They also recommended that the police department get a vending miser for their vending machine.
State Senator Chris McDaniel gave council an update on the bills that passed the legislature this season.
Several citizens wrote letters to the city commending the police department, specifically Detective Jill Stulz, and officers Chad Girdler and TJ Selby for their professionalism and help in various cases. Other officers were commended also for their professionalism.
City Administrator Marc Fields asked council to consider the property on Dixie Highway across from St. Henry to be surplus property so that the city can sell it. A zoning text amendment will be discussed at the May meeting to add a variety store to the zoning of an area on Dixie Highway.
City Engineer Jim Viox announced that several repairs and resurfacing will commence shortly which will undoubtedly cause traffic upsets and rerouting, but need to be done.
Linda Dietz, who lives on Price Avenue, came to ask council to be reasonable about a proposed law to limit trash cans to the back yard, or if the resident cannot put them in the back, they will have to be hidden from view in the front yard.
Another resident of Deerchase, off Narrows road, brought his little son Alex as an example of the children on the road who were in danger because the cars who travel though there are going too fast, he said.
A committee meeting will be held on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss various agenda items.
Story & photo by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor