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Mayor Carran, New Commission Take the Reins

There was looking back and looking forward in Downtown Covington Friday night as the city welcomed its new mayor and city commission during a ceremonial swearing-in at the Madison Events Center. Presiding over the oath of office was former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Donald Wintersheimer who spent fourteen years at Covington City Hall, mostly as city solicitor. The retired justice shared stories of navigating a garbage worker strike while serving as interim city manager, using his experience to inspire the new leaders of Covington.

"We had many problems and we still do," said Wintersheimer, who has lived in Covington with his wife for more than fifty years. "They can be solved if we keep our nose to the grindstone and shoulders to the wheel, with old-fashioned hard work."

"The time for rejoicing is now and the hard work will begin tomorrow." That work now belongs to Mayor Sherry Carran and City Commissioners Chuck Eilerman, Steve Frank, Mildred Rains, and Michelle Williams.

Master of ceremonies Mark Neikirk also spent loads of time at City Hall, serving as a city reporter for the Kentucky Post. Now the head of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at Northern Kentucky University, Neikirk lived in the Old Seminary Square neighborhood while working for the Post. "As a young reporter it was inspiring to see change driven by the neighborhoods," Neikirk said. He acknowledged that the current leadership in the city has made a positive impression on the region.

Even though the night was mostly about the new mayor and commission, Chuck Scheper, who just completed his fourteen month run as the city's top political figure, collected his share of applause. Nearly a full year after setting the agenda for what would drive his administration with his 2012 state of the city address inside the same building, Scheper spoke once again, with much of that agenda accomplished. "It was certainly a challenging time but I think we had good discussions and debate," Scheper said. "I'm confident that we are in a much better position today." 

The former mayor spoke of changing attitudes in the city, noting that he encounters many residents regularly who have a more positive outlook for Covington's future. Adding that he will continue to serve the city as chairman of the Catalytic Development Fund of Northern Kentucky, Scheper stated that he would look back on his time as mayor as being among the best experiences of his life. He expressed confidence in the administration that will follow him.

"I know that this commission is poised and eager and ready to go to bring Covington to that great city we all love and know is possible," Scheper said.

"We're going to continue in the good spirit that Mayor Scheper created for us," promised Carran, who was first elected to the city commission in 2006 and is Covington's first female mayor. "I'm going to work as hard as I can so that we don't take a step backwards. I don't want to disappoint Mayor Scheper, all of you, or the staff. Each of (the new commissioners) brings a different perspective and that's going to create a good dialogue."

Carran's victory in the November election did not only mark the first time that a woman would ascend to the city's highest office. It also marked the first time that there would be a majority of women on the five-member city commission with Carran, Rains, and Williams outnumbering Eilerman and Frank. "I think Chuck and I are going to have to watch our Ps and Qs," Frank quipped.

Frank, first elected in 2010, hopes to continue the successes of the previous commission. "We no whave a government we can afford and we can't just stop there," he said. "What this next commission is about is building the Covington we always wanted it to be."

"We are on the edge of a very great future thanks to the foundation laid by Mayor Scheper."

"I think under Chuck Scheper we've seen the era of the golden touch," Eilerman said, before saying that he looks forward to his new role on the commission with a promise of working with input from the community. This will be Eilerman's first term in office.

Rains returns to the commission after having been appointed in 2009 but failing to win election to a full term in 2010. She retired as an employee of the city after more than three decades, including a time in which Judge Wintersheimer was still city solicitor. "I think I'm gonna bring a perspective to it that others can't," she said. 

Williams also begins her first term on the city commission, one she began Friday evening with an excited shout from the podium. "I'm already running," she said joyfully. "The train is moving and I'm on it, I'm moving, too!"

After much heavy lifting throughout 2012 to fix the city's finances and to jumpstart promising economic development projects, the weight of Covington's future responsibility now falls on these five, with Carran at the helm. Residents of the city can expect an administration that focuses on involvement from the city's nineteen neighborhoods. "Those people (in neighborhood associations) spend a lot of time making their neighborhoods better which makes Covington better in the long run," the mayor said. "I believe the changes we've made in the last six months will lead to stronger neighborhoods and a stronger Covington."

Written by Michael Monks, editor and publisher of The River City News

Photo: From left to right, Carran, Frank, Eilerman, Williams, and Rains stand during the benediction at their swearing-in ceremony Friday evening in Downtown Covington/RCN

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