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Challengers in Taylor Mill Take Questions at Forum

In Taylor Mill, the four seats on the city commission are up for grabs. Three incumbents - Ed Kuehne, Dan Murray, and Roger Reis - are seeking reelection, while the fourth incumbent, Debby Kreimborg, is not on the ballot. Instead, her husband, Mark Kreimborg, the former mayor and Kenton County deputy judge/executive is running. 
 
Three other challengers gathered for a meet-and-greet at Knuk N Futz restaurant in Taylor Mill. Owner Kevin Novesl moderated the two-hour session. Candidates Sarah Frietch, Phil Peace, and Matthew Martin answered questions.
 
None of the other candidates attended, which led to much of the evening's comments being critical of the current administration. 
 
The first question was from Jim Hilbert, who said he would have walked up to the event because he lived so close, but there are no sidewalks. He asked when he would see sidewalks on Taylor Mill Road?
 
Matt Martin said since the taxes have been increased in other years he also wondered where the concrete was. He explained how he wanted to go door to door, but really did not like cutting through people's yards since there are no sidewalks in places. He theorized that the current commission kept the taxes the same this year because they realized they had competition this year, but in previous years they had raised the taxes.
 
Phil Peace told the audience the city received federal funding, but it comes with a lot of strings and usually no one knows when the money will be released. He did say, however, that money for things like sidewalks could come from increased development, which he was in favor of.  
 
Development was a recurring topic at the meet and greet.
 
Sarah Frietch echoed the other candidates in lamenting the raise in taxes in recent years and still no sidewalks. She brought up Edgewood and Crestview Hills and said they have sidewalks, but nothing is happening in Taylor Mill. She didn't like that families had to cross Pride Parkway in order to get to a sidewalk, and pointed out that cars go way too fast along the street. She also informed the audience that she thought there was not enough parking for Pride Park, and that discouraged people from coming to Taylor Mill to spend their dollars.
 
Vinnie Johnson, a retired Police Officer, spoke up next. "I have watched this city grow from literally nothing to what we have now," he said. "You all are talking more development. Will it have a positive or negative effect on the city?"
 
Phil Peace said he didn't want to throw the city's plan out, he wanted to tweak it. He said he wanted to keep the character of Taylor Mill.
 
"It is a good overall plan, but the execution is poor and the vision is cloudy," he stated. Peace has long done battle with the city over a proposed United Dairy Farmers gas station on a piece of property that he owns. 
 
Frietch said the zoning is not working by the interstate, and said the city lost out on acquiring a Chick-fil-A to Ft. Wright due to zoning. She pointed out that there is only one gas station, and zoning laws are so stringent that people have to drive to Latonia or Wilder to get cheaper gas.
 
Martin said a conference hotel is planned for part of the downtown zoning, DTM 4, and he couldn't envision a hotel like that in Taylor Mill. He brought up that developer Gary Holland has had zoning modified or adjusted for his vision, and said Holland is the only one who gets the breaks in the city. Holland developed the so-called "Trifecta" building that houses the new Graeter's, LaRosa's, and Skyline. 
 
Preferential treatment for some developers was a recurring theme.
 
Scott Smith asked what can be done to improve Pride Park, arguing that the equipment is in bad shape.
 
Peace quipped that there used to be a hole with an amphitheater and now there is just a hole.
 
Martin said in order to pay for more repairs, there has to be more revenue. Frietch said more revenue means the city could hire could be a few more maintenance guys. She also said more money would mean better lighting, or security lighting to discourage vandalism.
 
Dot Hungler said Church Street has a big hole in it and the city's solution so far was to put a cover over it. A lady from the same street complained that the city has not signed the lateral agreement from the Sanitation District, and therefore nobody wants to touch the sinkhole near her home. She said sewage will eventually back up into her house.
 
Martin stated that Taylor Mill is reactive instead of proactive, and invited people to come up and yell and scream at him if he is elected because he will do something about problems.   
 
Peace said the the city ignores a problem and hope it goes away.
 
Frietch admitted she didn't know much about the road situation.
 
The next question set off a firestorm of attacks against City Administrator Jill Bailey and the current commissioners.
 
When a resident complained about waiting for park improvements and sidewalks, Peace said that Bailey hoards money for "pet projects" - like a new city building. 
 
"It all goes back to transparency, and it all goes back to Jill," Martin said. "It has got to stop, and it is going to stop."
 
Stan Cook commented on the lack of bidding process.  Peace said there is a pie chart on the website that doesn't really tell people where money is going. 
 
"There is one person who touches every transaction," he said. "That is the (city administrator)."
 
He said there should be checks and balances, and Martin agreed, saying he wouldn't feel comfortable being the only one handling things. Frietch said she has done internal auditing and all things should go through four people, including the two who sign checks.
 
Vinnie Johnson challenged them, saying  "Are you saying they're doing something illegal?"
 
All three responded no, but Peace said what they were doing allowed a stockpiling of money.
 
"What I am hearing is that everything that is being done is being done wrong, and you guys have the answers," said Johnson. "Well I want the answers before I cast my vote."
 
Peace said he didn't think anything illegal was going on but when the auditor comes in and makes the same recommendation that more than one person should be responsible the city doesn't do anything.
 
Johnson persisted, wondering if any of the three have asked the city if they have followed the auditor's recommendations.
 
Martin said the problem seemed like an easy thing to fix, although it might mean more money, to have more people responsible for end results. Frietch agreed, saying she would want to fix it. They brought up that having one person control things leads to theft situations that occurred in Covington, at the Kenton County golf course, and other places.
 
"It is the secrecy," said Peace. "Before you sit down at a meeting, the documents are already prepared before discussion is held. All decisions are made without anyone speaking about it."
 
Peace then went on about his UDF project, and how he believes that the city has sent mixed messages on the proposed development.
 
"I will remind you that Phil wants to give everyone a fair shake," Frietch said when Peace had finished. "I want to point out that I have serious concerns about ethics. I plan to bring accountability. I have a very high standard of ethics, and there is one right choice in the end. I will strive for that."
 
Novesl was concerned that the city should balance the new growth with the small businesses and helping those small businesses stay in the city since he said they have been funding the city for a long time.
 
Novesl's own business - Knuk N Futz - was discussed as an example. After reopening following a damaging structure fire, Novesl desired to construct an outdoor patio for guests. Work on the project began without proper permits, and when Novesl finally appeared before the board of adjustment, his request to finish the project was denied over interpretation of the zoning code.
 
Peace said the problem Novesl had with his outdoor patio is an example of a problem with the city. Frietch agreed saying that you can't, as a city, stand in the way of small business entrepreneurs. If you do something for one business, you had better do it for all of them, she stated.
 
Novesl asked how long it would take them, if elected, to make themselves accessible, and was told everyone could have their emails and phone numbers now. That is different, they said, from the current commission, although the business cards for the commission now have email addresses on them.
 
Transparency and accessibility were touted as significant problems of the current Commission.  The three challengers asked the audience to put them on commission so that there was fresh blood. 
 
The River City News is hosting a Taylor Mill city commission candidates forum on Tuesday, October 25, at Pride Park, at 7 p.m. All candidates and the public are invited to
attend.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor