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Covington: Klein Out as City Manager, Replaced by Local Attorney

Larry Klein's seat at Covington City Hall has been hot since new Mayor Joe Meyer took over in January.

On Tuesday night, that seat was empty.

By Friday, his office will be, too.

The city commission unanimously accepted Klein's resignation on Tuesday after months of tension dating back to before Meyer defeated former Mayor Sherry Carran in November.

Loren Wolff, a local attorney and neighborhood activist who chaired Meyer's so-called "transition team" late last year, was unanimously appointed to be interim city manager at a rate of $11,000 per month until a permanent replacement is hired. She will not be a candidate for the permanent role, Meyer said.

In addition to hiring the City of Covington's top paid position, the city commission will be busy filling key roles at City Hall. Development manager Donnie Warner also resigned on Tuesday night, meaning that the the city's chief economic development role is also empty. The city is also without a finance director, director of operations, and information technology director, positions vacated within the past three months.

The search for a new city manager begins immediately, Meyer said.

"It is our intention to begin the search process just as soon as possible," the mayor said. The city commission met in executive (closed) session on Monday evening to hash out the details of Klein's departure and Wolff's arrival. While he was not present for the city commission meeting, Klein signed the agreement on Tuesday. In it, he and the City of Covington agree that his salary will remain the same as it was as city manager through June 30, a period of time in which Klein will remain as a consultant at City Hall. He will vacate his city office and resign any committee or board appointments and turn in all city property (except for his phone and phone number). On June 30, he will be paid the accrued value of any unused sick and vacation benefits.

In the agreement, Klein agrees not to sue the city for any reason. Both parties agree to a "non-disparagement clause" for one year, and Klein will receive a letter of recommendation for employment from the city.

"It has been an honor to work for Covington," Klein said in a statement to The River City News. I have made friends for life here. Every day was a privilege to be here to help. I will always remember the residents and staff who were integral to the progress and improvement we have experienced."

City Commissioner Bill Wells thanked Klein for his work, and rattled off a list of transformative development projects that transpired under his stewardship of City Hall. The Hotel Covington and the hundreds of new residential units here and on the way, as well as other new business attraction efforts were among the items Wells cited. "I could talk for hours about the things that Larry has done," Wells said.

Commissioner Jordan Huizenga also thanked Klein.

"He's done, in my opinion, an outstanding job," Huizenga said. "And I think he would readily say the single most important thing he could do for the city is assemble the outstanding team that is sitting in the back of the room."

"He gave it his very best and we wish him well in his future endeavors," Mayor Meyer said, noting, in response to a question from a citizen, that Klein's absence was Klein's choice.

Assistant City Manager and City Solicitor Frank Warnock should have been considered for the role of interim city manager, said John Flesch, a Wallace Woods resident who ran unsuccessfully for city commission last November. Warnock said that he would not comment about being passed over. "My role is to be collaborative and to keep the city straight on the tracks," he said. He may be a candidate for the full-time gig, though. "I have to think about things before applying."

The search for the next city manager is expected to be national.

Commissioner Tim Downing, who helped facilitate Klein's peaceful departure, said of the agreement, "It was the best for everybody, for all parties involved." He said that the commission reviewed Wolff's resume for the first time on Monday. She has some government experience, according to the website of her bankruptcy law firm where she practices with her husband, Ben Wolff. She worked for the Indiana legislature and the Indianapolis mayor's office. She lives in Covington's Old Seminary Square neighborhood. She did not attend Tuesday night's meeting.

"We are going to be starting as soon as next week," Downing said of the search for a permanent replacement for Klein. "The commission is going to be discussing the qualities they are looking for in the next city manager, and we want to make sure we include those qualities in a national search."

Klein, who joined the city nine years ago as assistant city manager, and has been city manager for more than six years, said that his replacement will have a solid foundation to build upon.

"Covington has the best team of city staff ever assembled," he said. "They and the vision of our residents and leaders are responsible for the the unprecedented progress and growth the city has witnessed in the past two years and the city is arguably in its strongest financial position ever.

"This is a great record to build upon and my hope is the best for Covington and to build further on this progress."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Klein's empty chair at Covington City Hall (RCN)