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City Administrator Position Voted Down in Park Hills

Park Hills City Council voted down an ordinance Monday night that would have created a city administrator position by a vote of 4 to 2.
 
The vote came after several residents spoke against having a city administrator, with sentiments ranging from the city can't afford it, to the city is fine the way it is.
 
Council members listened to the residents, and Councilwoman Kathy Zembrodt made a motion to table the ordinance indefinitely, which was quickly seconded by Councilwoman Pamela Spoor. But as discussion went on, with more comments from residents, Zembrodt withdrew her motion, and Councilman Jason Reser made a motion to send the matter to several committees to discuss it. Reser's motion did not get a second, so it died,
 
The vote on the ordinance creating the position was taken instead, and Zembrodt, Spoor, Greg Claypole, and Steve Elkins voted against it while Reser and Karl Oberjohn voted in favor.
 
A former councilman, Mark Cooper, spoke against the ordinance. He pointed out that the auditor gave a very positive report on the financial status of the city. However, he said that the argument that a city administrator could help the city win grants was not strong enough to expend the funds.
 
"I think it might be a good thing to conduct a gap analysis, of the mayor's and council's roles," said resident Syl Masih. "Then if you would get a five-year strategic plan, and demonstrate how to really pay for this and show how it will benefit the community to put it in place."
 
Resident Mark Koenig said the city was moving too fast, and said he had worked for the city and the state, and anytime they would add another layer of administration, they ended up regretting it.
 
"You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," he concluded.
 
Dave Russo asaid that he believed the only way to get the money for the city administrator is to cut a police officer.
 
"That's a scary way to get money," he said.
 
Lawrence Flick suggested that if the city had a little extra money it should give a bonus to the police and fire to let them know how much they appreciate them.
"When people get a few nickels in their pockets, they want to spend it," he said.
 
Elizabeth Ehrman told council she had grown up in Park Hills, and believed that the city had been doing a good job. She did not want a CAO that would act like a public relations buffer because she felt everyone was her neighbor, and she liked direct access to the council. Several in the audience agreed that they liked the accessibility.
 
Mayor Matt Mattone tried to clarify the reasons for having a city administrator.
 
"We had an insurance gap that cost us a lot," he said. "Plus, this year we almost defaulted on a loan. We don't really know how to do these things, no matter how well-intentioned we are. We had the Berling project that cost us money, and we have the Gateway project facing us. I think it would be of value to have someone who could help us, and make recommendations. It is a different era, the atmosphere has changed. I think there would be a benefit."
 
Spoor and Zembrodt said they did not think the city could afford a city administrator at this time. Greg Claypole said the ordinance was vague, and he did not want to reduce police or fire for this. Elkins spoke about how some people think they should farm out fire and police and he is not a fan of that. He said he didn't think the city was ready for a CAO.
 
Jason Reser had brought up the matter in the first place and he reminded council that this ordinance would only create the position, and several more steps had to be taken before someone was hired.
 
"We are not looking for a bailout," he said, referring to the hours that all of the council and the mayor puts in. "A CAO will make us more effective."  
 
"A lot of things can go wrong running a city," Reser continued. "There are a lot of angry people in the city. We have an older fire truck that will need replacing in three years. That's a half-million dollar project. The police department is busting out, there is not enough space. We have some major expenditures on the horizon. We need to clean some things up." 
 
Karl Oberjohn said that in general he was in favor of a city administrator, be,ieving that it was a resource that would make the mayor and council more effective.
 
"If the funds aren't there, the time is not right," he stated. "It has to be the right time."
 
"It cost us $64,000 to do what council thought represented the city best," Oberjohn continued, referring to the Audubon project. "It is better to be proactive rather than reactive. With Gateway coming up, we should be on the front edge."
 
Other notes:
 
Another ordinance considered Monday night establishes an engineer review fee. In the City of Park Hills, if a structure is built on land that has a 20 percent slope, it has to be reviewed by the city engineer, in addition to Planning & Development Services (PDS). In the past there were only about fourteen cases with a 20 percent slope in ten years so it hasn't been a problem for the city to compensate the engineer, Jay Bayer, for the extra work. However, with the Audubon Forest (Berling) project already started, there will be approximately 25 additional lots that could have the 20 percent slope, and the city can't afford extra fees on so many. Not wanting to put the burden on the applicant, or the taxpayer, council wasn't sure what fee to charge or how to charge it, so the ordinance was tabled indefinitely.
 
The Kenton County Planning Commission offered its blessing to the proposed text amendment to the Highway Commercial zoning for a stretch of Dixie Highway where Kenton County Commissioner Joe Nienaber wants to relocate his business, Cabinetry and Designs by Granite World. The text amendment officially added professional offices to the list of permitted uses, as well as allowing home improvement design, sales, services and installation, along with the fabrication of those products to the list of permitted uses. It also removed the rental of trucks and vehicles weighing up to 25,999 pounds from the list of permitted uses.  
 
Council listened to the first reading, and upon the second reading and approval, the way will be clear for Nienaber to start consolidating his business to the site.
 
Police Chief Cody Stanley gave a report, saying the new phone system is up and operational. He also said people can phone the police if they have anything they need to put up on the city sign.
 
Fire Chief John Rigney told council the clean up effort for the city netted 1,600 pounds of garbage, and pronounced it a success. He credited Margie Witt, of Ft. Wright, for all her help.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
Photo: Park Hills city council sworn in earlier this year (RCN file)