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Bellevue City Administrator Resigns "As Requested"; Warnock Likely Replacement

This story has been updated with comment from Bellevue Mayor Charlie Cleves.

Bellevue city administrator Keith Spoelker resigned this week, noting in his letter to the mayor and city council that he had done so "as requested."

Spoelker had served as city administrator since 2008 following 20 years as an employee of the City of Cincinnati.

He submitted his resignation on New Year's Day, and noted that he agreed to to aid the transition to a new city administrator through January 31 in exchange for one month's salary, roughly $6,850, and health benefits for that period.

In his emailed resignation letter, obtained by The River City News, Spoelker said that he has reached out to the new city administrator to begin the transition period.

The next city administrator is expected to be Frank Warnock, pending approval of city council.

Warnock is currently assistant city manager in Covington where he started as city solicitor in 2005 after serving in the same role for the City of Bellevue for ten years. He has also served as attorney to the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Board and the City of Melbourne. In 2018, Warnock was named the 2018 City/County Administrator of the Year Award from the Northern Kentucky City/County Management Association.

Mayor Charlie Cleves, elected to the position following his first run for public office in November, forced the change. Cleves replaces two-term mayor Ed Riehl who did not seek a third term.

Cleves said in a statement that the citizens of Bellevue had spoken in the November election and they want change. Cleves was elected in an election that three incumbent city council members lose their seats, and another council member lose the mayoral race to Cleves, paving the way for four new members of council this year.

“The four new council members and I never ran for office until last year, so it’s clear that the citizens of Bellevue wanted new leadership,” Cleves said. “We will be starting the new year with a new mayor, four new council members, a new city administrator, a new city attorney, a new focus, and a new management scheme.”

Spoelker said that he would wait to comment until after Cleves.

Warnock had declined to confirm this story for several days, calling discussions with Cleves "a work in progress." On Friday, he commented in the press release issued by Cleves. “It’s time for a new beginning, both for the city and for me personally,” said Warnock, a longtime Bellevue resident. “When I first moved to Bellevue in 1984 to attend Chase Law School, I lived above Boots’ Body Shop on Fairfield Avenue before moving to Harrison Avenue. My wife and I now live on Grandview Avenue. Things have changed quite a bit in Bellevue in the 35 years since we moved here.”

Councilman Ryan Salzman said that a change is also being made in the position of Bellevue city solicitor. Mike Surrey is expected to be replaced by attorney David Fessler, Salzman said. That was confirmed in the news release issued Friday.

"Our communication, as a city, is failing. It has continued to get worse. So it is time for change," Salzman told The River City News. He said that the change in city solicitor was solely brought on by Cleves and does not need council approval, but Salzman added that he is "excited" to have Fessler in the role.

Cleves confirmed the news about Fessler in his statement on Friday.

“With the addition of Frank and Dave, we have a great management team who will work with our elected leaders and bring both experience and fresh positive ideas to the city,” said Cleves.

Fessler is a Bellevue native and resident. He is a graduate of Bellevue High School, where he served as student council president, played on the 1977 state champion football team, and served as captain of the track team. In 2018, Fessler was inducted into the high school’s “Hall of Distinguished Alumni.” He currently serves as president of the Bellevue Education Foundation.

Councilman Steve Guidugli also said that he supported the change, though he complimented Spoelker for his service.

"Any time I ever had a constituent issue I would call Keith and he always did his best to resolve the issue, but I just think with the new leadership, I don't think (Spoelker and Cleves) have a good working relationship and Keith must have thought it was in his best interest to move on," Guidugli said.

He added that he believed that Spoelker struggled with explaining some issues to concerned residents, noting work on a hillside in the Bonnie Leslie neighborhood that received a $3.2 million federal grant but hasn't been completed after three years, as well as the long and slow process of repairing Lincoln Road, which was also slated to receive $1 million in state funding but has not been completed.

"People don't take time out of their schedule to go to a council meeting unless there is something they are irritated about or they want answers or resolutions to," Guidugli said. "The citizens expected it to have a resolution."

Guidugli said that he expects council to vote on Warnock at next Wednesday's meeting, the first for the new council. He and Salzman are the only returning members from the previous council after November's election which saw three incumbents, Rodney Poynter, Dave Slater, and Carol Rich lose their seats. They will be joined by newcomers Sean Fisher, Shauna Kruse, Pat Hogan, and Scott Witte.

Guidugli was also on council when Warnock previously worked for the City of Bellevue and credits him with assisting Guidugli in being better heard by other veteran council members. "I'm grateful for that," Guidugli said. "I think he'll bring the same leadership."

“Keith is a good person, and he helped manage Bellevue through some challenging times,” Cleves said of the outgoing administratior. “I appreciate his service to the city but I think its time for some fresh energy and new ideas. We plan to review all aspects of the structure and management of the city,” he continued, “and discuss better ways of providing a safe and clean environment and improving city services.”

Cleves said his primary focus as mayor will be economic development. “Economic development is the cornerstone upon which the future success of our great city will be built,” he said.

“We want positive change. We want a new beginning, new energy. The past administrations have built a great foundation, but we want to take it to the next level.”

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher