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Backroom Disagreements Come to Forefront in Fight Over HAC Appointment

"You're not getting the votes," City Commissioner Michelle Williams said, looking directly at Mayor Sherry Carran when an appointment to the Housing Authority of Covington came up on Tuesday night's agenda.

The exchange was one of several heated moments that dominated a meeting that devolved into personal, political attacks and heavily strayed from the current city commission's clearly non-binding "social contract" to treat each other and the community with respect.

Following a motion by Commissioner Chuck Eilerman to approve the appointment of Jen Allen to the HAC Board, a second was needed to bring the issue for a vote but instead on the dais there was stone cold silence.

Finally, Williams, confident that the motion would fail, offered a second.

Carran got her votes, however, and Warner received the appointment to replace former city commissioner JT Spence on the HAC Board. Williams voted no. Commissioners Steve Frank and Mildred Rains offered "present, not voting" positions. The motion passed 2-1.

The decision followed weeks of behind-the-scenes bickering over the appointment. Carran's first choice was a neighborhood leader from Peaselburg but Williams and several residents of the Eastside neighborhood were adamant that an African-American should receive the appointment to the currently all-white board. 

Specifically, they wanted Bennie Doggett, a familiar face in local civic activities for several decades. Allen is also an African-American.

"If I wanted a particular person on commission to work with me I had to nominate an African-American," the mayor claimed, referring to Williams.

Carran opposed the suggestion of Doggett because of what the mayor referred to as Doggett's involvement with O.A.S.I.S., Inc, an Eastside social services agency that she said directly benefits from the Housing Authority of Covington, which is building a large residential development called River's Edge at Eastside Point across the street from the agency. Carran called it a conflict of interest.

Doggett took to the podium to call the mayor's decision personal and political.

"This is political on your part," Doggett said. "I did not vote for you in the election so I guess this is my punishment."

"When you first ran for city commission I helped put signs in every yard because I thought you were gonna be the person I thought you were gonna be. The second time around, I said no. I have never disrespected you, Sherry and you can't punish me. You're about trees and I'm about people. That's all I care about." Doggett continued, "It's not personal with me. You're the mayor and I respect you but you can't put no dagger in my back and think it's going to be OK."

Doggett, Williams, and other residents claim that there was no official connection between Doggett and O.A.S.I.S.

Carran charged back at the detractors with an accusation of politics being played on their side. "It's become political when it should be what is in the best interest of the city," the mayor said. "I stand by my nomination. There needs to be more people asking questions of HAC and Jen (Warner) would have done that."

Allen will get that chance, joining Carran, who appointed herself (and was approved by the commission) to the commission's spot on the HAC Board, replacing former city commissioner Steve Casper whom she defeated in November's election for mayor.

Eastside resident Clinton Jackson simultaneously criticized what he called a political appointment while also calling for Doggett's appointment because his neighborhood supported candidates politically. Jackson even argued that Eilerman had changed in some way because Jackson and others had placed his election signs around town and yet the city commissioner did not vote the way they wanted him to.

Jackson went on to accused the mayor of telling him and others that she would not honor political promises made by Casper.

"How you represent my comments is not accurate," the mayor said.

Jen Allen is a Ph.D. candidate in leadership & organizational change and holds a Master's degree in management from Miami University. She has experience with Women and Minority Business Enterprise, is a volunteer with the United Way, the Welcome House homeless shelter, and Saint Vincent DePaul.

Allen's appointment to the HAC Board was not the only grumble Commissioner Williams had with the organization. "There's another HAC board member that does not live in the city and some people, the mayor thinks this person should still be on the board," Williams said, referring to Glenn Kukla. "I can't move out of the city, school board members can't move out of the city."

"Glenn owns several properties in Covington and is building a home in (Covington neighborhood) Kenton Hills," Carran replied. The mayor said that the attorneys for HAC and the city have agreed that it is OK for Kukla to live outside the city temporarily while his house is being built.

"He has not lived in Covington for a year and won't move here for three years," Williams shot back. "He's not coming back."

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

Photo: Covington Mayor Sherry Carran at Tuesday's meeting/RCN

Note: A previous version of this story referred to Jen Allen as Jen Warner by mistake.