City to Send Letter to County Prosecutor, but Won't Say Who Wrote It
This article has been updated to clarify that the city's legal department provided edits to the letter that will be delivered to the county attorney and the commonwealth's attorney. This information was provided to The River City News at 2 p.m. on Friday by City Solicitor Frank Warnock who said there had been a miscommunication at the city building in relation to who had assisted with edits.
In a special meeting Thursday night, the Covington city commission continued to grapple with issues that have plagued it all year: ongoing distrust by some of the previous mayor and city manager, a depleted city staff, questionable salary proposals, and how it may finally move on tackling its upcoming financial challenges related to the pending departure of the IRS processing center and its jobs, and the increase in state-mandated pension contributions.
The commission voted 4 to 0 to advance a copy of attorney Scott White's report that accuses former mayor Sherry Carran and ex-city manager Larry Klein of criminal wrongdoing related to use of public resources for private campaigns, and destruction of public property in the form of deleted emails. White, a Lexington-based attorney, was hired in the summer by the city commission to investigate possible wrongdoing in the city's code enforcement department.
Nothing illegal was uncovered, but management of the department was highly criticized and longtime city engineer Mike Yeager ultimately resigned.
During that investigation, White's scope was widened to evaluate an issue that was thought to have been put to rest by the Kentucky Attorney General's Office earlier in the year: that Klein illegally aided Carran's campaign through the use of his public job.
White retrieved more emails than were originally sent to Attorney General Andy Beshear for his consideration after the Covington firefighters union filed a complaint. The union supported Joe Meyer, who ultimately unseated Carran last November. Beshear's office found no wrongdoing.
White accused the attorney general of not conducting a full investigation, but while presenting his findings, White's tone and language within the report were criticized as being more prosecutorial than investigatory. Those same criticisms re-emerged on Thursday as the commission voted to send that report to Kenton County Attorney Stacy Tapke and Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders who will look into possible criminal charges.
Commissioner Jordan Huizenga said that he discussed the report with other attorneys that are "experienced and respected" and they were critical of the voice and language, he said. He questioned the wording of the transmittal letter from the city commission that would accompany the report as it is sent to Tapke and Sanders. "I don't want it to reflect poorly on the city to say this is a report we fully endorse," he said. "That's why I think the transmittal letter is critical because there are other folks who have looked at the report that have great experience and much of the same type of experience that Scott White does and there are legal arguments here that are somewhat sketchy at best, and the way it is written is clearly opinionated and not investigatory.
"How do we communicate that in a transmittal letter?"
The commission also listened to a report from assistant city solcitior Michael Bartlett about the city's email preservation policy. Klein and Carran are accused of deleting emails before they departed City Hall, but both deny that claim. Bartlett said that the current system, as managed by Covington-based C-Forward, allows individual employees to delete their emails from the server. This is an issue that has been discussed in recent years but never fully addressed for reasons that were unclear Thursday night. Such emails should be preserved for two years and the city had previously been instructed to do so by the attorney general.
"We're getting a wake up call," City Manager Johnston said. "Our goal is public trust. We need to comply with state law, step one. I think what (Bartlett) has said is, primarily, in the spirit we have been doing it, but we can't have hard evidence and hard policy and training that we take this seriously. I think that's what spurred this discussion.
Huizenga asked who is currently in charge of the information technology at City Hall.
Wells asked where the money would come from for such a high-paying gig.
"It will be coming from the general fund," Johnston said. He said the city is sitting on a nice checkbook balance because it hasn't had as many employees to pay.