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Covington to Hire Economic Development Director at $115,000

Nearly nine months after the resignation of the previous economic development manager, the City of Covington is moving to create a new position and fill it with a face that was once familiar in Covington.

The new position will be called economic development director and comes with a salary of $115,000. The position was not advertised.

That is significantly higher than what either Donald Warner, who resigned in February, or Geoff Milz, who resigned six months earlier from the same position, were paid. But those positions were different, and reported to the development manager/city engineer.

This new position will report directly to the city manager.

Tom West, who is currently a senior vice president at Thomas P. Miller & Associates, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm, is set to be hired at Tuesday night's Covington city commission meeting.

Based in Lexington, West was once director of the Covington Business Council and more recently served as executive director of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board.

"He is a good candidate and extremely familiar with the Covington community because he used to work here," City Manager David Johnston said at last week's city commission caucus meeting. If his hiring is approved, West would start in the role on December 1.

The city, Johnston said, needs to move quickly because West is entertaining other offers.

Johnston said that West would be a boon to a department that already has Suzanne Gettys performing business retention duties and Ross Patten working as an economic development specialist.

"We really need a management presence for their work and Tom brings that to us," Johnston said. "With the workforce development aspect, we don't have that in our portfolio, and he knows who to talk to at the state and local level to help us bolster our economic development presence."
 
West is also a certified planner, Johnston said.
 
Mayor Joe Meyer said that he encouraged West to apply for the job when Warner's old position was advertised earlier in the year. "I certainly suggested to Mr. West that he should apply, but I don’t know whether others made a similar suggestion to him or whether he already planned to apply prior to my suggestion," Meyer said in an email to The River City News. "I encourage outstanding public servants to apply to the City of Covington at every opportunity."
 
Meyer and West were both in Frankfort at the same time while Governor Steve Beshear was in office. Before retiring in 2013, Meyer was secretary of the education and workforce development cabinet while West led the KWIB.
 
"Of course I know Tom, many people in Covington know him and are excited that he has agreed to serve in the economic development director role," Meyer wrote to RCN. "I knew Tom when he served as executive director of the Covington Business Council many years ago. Tom served as executive director of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board and did an excellent job in that role. Most recently he's worked for the Thomas P. Miller Company in an economic development role and as a consultant advising cities on the redevelopment of their downtown areas. 
 
"His connections to the city/state and his depth of experience are what made him such a good fit for the position of Economic Development Director.

"I had many opportunities to interact with him professionally over the years in both Covington and Frankfort. He’s an outstanding public servant and will be a great asset to the City. I’m beyond thrilled that someone of his caliber and experience has decided to come work for the City of Covington. This was a great decision by City Manager Johnston."

 
When questioned about the $115,000 salary, Meyer said that West's role is not "similar" to the one filled by Warner or Milz, or before them, Naashom Marx. "(T)hey were managers who reported to the director and are in a different salary classification," Meyer wrote to RCN. "Mr. West has considerably more experience and is better qualified than those you mentioned. He also has his AICP certification, the same as (former assistant city manager) Larisa Sims has, so he brings the planning perspective to the job, too.
 
"This makes him exceptionally well qualified to help lead the city's efforts for the re-use of the IRS site."

Meyer noted that Warner's title was development manager/assistant city solicitor while Milz was called development manager. Marx was known as business development manager. "Tracking this stuff can be difficult given the way previous administrations created jobs for specific people and at times combined jobs with already existing jobs," Meyer said. 

"The hiring process and salary negotiation for Mr. West took place while I was out of the country (I was gone from Oct. 21 – Nov. 7) and I played no role. If you have a specific question about his salary, City Manager Johnston is the one to answer the question. My recollection is that Mr. West’s salary and salary classification was discussed at length at the public caucus meeting you attended."

JoAnn Simpson, Human resources director at the City of Covington, said that she and Johnston looked at salary ranges for similar roles across the state and saw anywhere from $74,900 to $132,000.
 
"We have to face a few things," Johnston said. "We do have a tough job here in Covington, particularly with our economic development efforts." He said that West brings the type of expertise the city needs. "He knows our network, he knows our city, he knows our challenges on the front end. 
 
Johnston said the $115,000 salary is the type of pay that would keep a candidate like West in his role for an extended period. 
 
At the top of the agenda for the city's economic development efforts is the IRS site, which will be vacated in 2019. The city is seeking requests for qualifications from developers.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher