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Erlanger to Explore Dispatch Options with County; Tension Mounts Between Council, Mayor

Erlanger city council voted Tuesday night to initiate talks with the Kenton County Fiscal Court to discuss blending Erlanger's dispatch system with Kenton County's system.

City Administrator Marc Fields explained that for the next two months they were going to do a functional analysis of their dispatch system, noting what they are doing now, and asking the question, can the city still do what it is doing now if it makes the move to the county?

"Our police chief and fire chief plus our dispatch manager are looking at this option, seeing if it makes any sense," said Fields. "If you have any questions about this, contact the chiefs or myself. If there is a lot of concern, go to the source, and the chiefs are the best source."

Councilwoman Vicki Kyle asked if council would be able to get a breakdown of costs for both options, and Fields said he was planning to get council not only cost comparison, but also functionality comparisons. A resolution to start the discussions was passed unanimously by council.

Erlanger has been a hold-out in Kenton County in operating its own dispatch center. The City of Covington ended its dispatch operations in 2012 and now its police and fire departments respond to Kenton County.

Tension emerging between mayor and some council members

A recent committee meeting that lasted three hours was apparently presided over by Mayor Tyson Hermes, which angered some members of council. They asked city council attorney Frank Wichmann to draw up a municipal order that would implement rules for committee meetings, specifying that the mayor should not preside over those meetings - and that nothing could be discussed at them except what is on the agenda.  

However, not all the members were unhappy with how the committee meeting went.

"Who authorized taxpayers' money to write the municipal order?," asked Councilwoman Jessica Fette, who said that she thought the meeting was the best she had attended since she joined council. "I thought it had to be a vote of council to order something written. It was when the chicken issue came up. "

"Everybody was talking at the same time without respect to everyone else," said Wichmann. "And there was no cost in preparing it. I am on a retainer and I reached that cost long ago. I haven't billed the city since January."

Mayor Hermes was offended by the municipal order and made a statement at the beginning of the meeting when he had the order added to the agenda, wondering why council members didn't come to talk to him. He said that he is a reasonable person. He said only Councilwoman Corine Pitts spoke up and told him she didn't like the seating arrangement. To have the matter concluded with such hostility was, to him, mind-boggling.

City attorney Jack Gatlin said that he represents the city, and the municipal order put him in a briar patch. He said he thinks the biggest concern is that if the meetings aren't valid then things that happen in the meeting aren't valid. He also said if the mayor doesn't preside over the meetings, which have nearly all of the council members there, who would preside? He also said that he didn't think the mayor could be excluded. He told council he had absolutely no issue with most of the order, but he believed that taking the mayor out of the proceedings was going too far. He cited a Supreme Court ruling that did not exclude the mayor presiding over council meetings.

Wichmann said the point was that the meetings were not council meetings, but committee meetings, with several two-person committees meeting at the same time. Even though most members of council come to the meetings, he said they usually come in regard to their own committee meetings, and for the most part listen to the others. Council members like the informality of the meetings, and like being informed, he said. In those meetings, ostensibly it is the job of the chair of the committee to preside, until their meeting was over and then the chair of the next committee would be in charge.

"To ignore the distinction between council and committee is ignoring the facts," Wichmann said.

Hermes said that the meeting seemed more like a caucus meeting or work meeting, because it had a quorum of council members, but some council members agreed that it was not so much a caucus as a brainstorming session. Pitts said she thought the control of the meeting had been taken away and that Hermes had taken over for the chairperson. Councilwoman Vicki Kyle said that it wasn't as if Hermes didn't have a right to voice his opinion, council members just didn't want him to run the meeting as mayor.

"To me the litmus test of a good law versus a bad law is one that stands the test of time," said Hermes. "If you make it to fit one specific situation, or one certain circumstance, how will it apply to other mayors and councils in the future?"

Ultimately, Councilman Randy Blankenship, the sponsor of the municipal order, asked to have the order tabled because several council members wanted to discuss it further.

Other notes:

Council voted in the law to have all other ordinances pertaining to residents taking care of their sidewalks repealed. The sidewalks will be taken care of by the city in a rotating order similar to the streets.

Council brought up that the July meeting falls on July 4th, a holiday, so they wanted to put the meeting on the second Tuesday of the month, but Wichmann said that the city already had an ordinance in place which specifies if the regular meeting falls on a holiday, it would automatically revert to the third Tuesday of the month. He said council could go with the second Tuesday, but since the ordinance was in place, they could let the meeting go to the third Tuesday without advertisement and notices. Council voted to put the meeting on July 18, the third Tuesday.

Council agreed to have a job fair at the Lloyd High School gym on August 26. They also announced that the Historical Society would sponsor its version of the Erlanger Antique Road Show on May 10 at 7 p.m. at its regular meeting at the Depot, and announced that there will be a walking tour of Covington on July 19. More information on both can be obtained by calling 859.727.2630.

City Administrator Fields brought up the matter of group home rentals. He told council they were probably seeing recovery program properties pop up all over town, and said that he had one next door to him and one down the street. He told council he thought they ought to be proactive as far as controls on these properties, and alluded to federal regulations that should be discussed in a committee meeting. Council agreed.

Councilman Don Niceley showed slides of Alice Street and said the railroad frequently blocks the street to unload cars for the car lot, but leaves heavy equipment on the street, which not only blocks it, but also damages the blacktop. He pointed out that there was debris left by the railroad that was an eyesore, and wanted to know how council could include the street in their beautification efforts. Fields said that he would put the issue to the correct people, as the same thing happened on Crescent Avenue, and when brought up, the issue was taken care of fairly quickly.

Jeff Wilson, from Republic Services, presented the city with a check for $1,800 to fund three movie nights in the parks. The first will be May 5, when the movie will be Rogue One, and will be held at Railroad Park at 7:30 p.m. Rain date for the movie will be July 14.

Abbey Ziegelmeyer, last year's winner of the city's $1,500 scholarship, told council how she purchased a laptop with her money, and it was getting a good workout since she is enrolled at the University of Cincinnati in a design program. She then announced that this year's winner is Olivia Beechem, a senior at St. Henry High School, who was chosen from 16 applicants from four high schools. Olivia has plans to study accounting at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

Jeremy Armbruster was appointed to the Board of Adjustment.

Five new firefighters also joined the fire department, and they also took the oath of office before the meeting as their families looked on. The new officers are Ben Fudala, Brad Harden, Greg Holian, Jeremiah Johnson, and Conner East.

Kevin Davis received his 20-year pin, and Steve Bodde will receive his 5-year pin.

Senator Chris McDaniel came to give council a review of the legislation passed in this year's session.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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