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Fractured Covington City Commission Falls Even Farther from Cohesion

It was two weeks ago that promotions within the fire department caused contention among the Covington City Commission, even leading to widespread regional media coverage after one member took to Facebook to blast the promotions with a stream of profanity.

But on Tuesday night, when the promotions were actually granted, the city commission unanimously offered approval, congratulations, and smiles.

Instead it was another issue that yet again demonstrated the fractured working and personal relationships among the five-member commission. 

While the newly promoted firefighters retreated to the lobby of City Hall for celebratory photos, all hell broke loose back in the commission chamber. No one could have anticipated the anger and disagreements that would follow the issue because it was not placed on the agenda before the meeting.

Even the mayor was surprised.

Commissioner Michelle Williams presented a resolution and demanded that it be placed on the agenda for a vote. Her resolution, a copy of which was not provided to other members of the commission or the media prior to or during or after the meeting, called for the city to go on record against proposed rate increases by Sanitation District 1.

The gist of the resolution (which will be published here once a copy is produced) called for opposition to SD1's proposed 9-percent rate increase which will go before the fiscal courts of Kenton, Campbell, and Boone Counties in the coming weeks.

"I brought it to the city manager today," Williams said. "As a commissioner I would like to add this to the agenda."

City Manager Larry Klein admitted that Williams did bring a copy of the resolution to him at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday but said there were issues within it. When Klein tried to further explain his position, Williams interrupted.

"This is a debate for commissioners," Williams said, informing the city manager that he did not have a vote on the matter.

Mayor Sherry Carran took offense to the remark. "Larry Klein is part of our city government," the mayor said.

"The resolution you handed me had erroneous information on it," continued Klein. "It's not as simple as an increase in rates." He argued that repairing what he called inaccuracies in the resolution and possibly having a representative from SD1 speak before the commission would be prudent before proceeding with a vote.

"I think more information on it ought to be considered."

Williams ordered the city clerk, Maggie Nyhan, to read the lengthy resolution, which she did. 

"There's no way I can remember all that was read," Mayor Carran said.

"It's highly irregular and bizarre to bring up a resolution of this complexity," said Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. "I can't vote on this tonight."

"Telling the city manager something is a discussion between commissioners, it's disrespectful," Carran said. The mayor suggested that Williams has "little background on what SD1 is trying to accomplish".

"That mandate benefits the urban core," the mayor said.

According to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The increases are needed, (SD1 Director David) Rager explained, because of a consent decree with the federal government and the aging state of Northern Kentucky’s infrastructure.

The decree, an agreement that gives SD1 time to bring its system into full compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, came after SD1 was sued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007. The decree gives the district until 2026 to meet the EPA edicts.

"The infrastructure in the city was being ignored and now it's being addressed," the mayor continued. She noted the $300,000 investment SD1 has made in the River's Edge at Eastside Pointe development, the work the sanitation district has done to alleviate water overflow at prisoner's Lake in Devou Park, the assistance on the planned reconstruction of the road around the Caroline Underpass, flooding issues in Peaselburg, and upgrades to Winston Avenue in Latonia. "There are projects all over town being addressed for the first time."

"To put something like this on the agenda at the last minute without allowing SD1 to present their case and no information from the public, it's disappointing."

"This is a tax increase on the residents of Covington and all the projects the mayor mentioned are already paid for," Williams said. "I don't think this would hurt our relationship with SD1."

"Not all these projects are paid for," Klein countered. "Without the funding, SD1 can't pay for these projects."

"SD1 should be more efficient with their money," Williams shot back.

"Can you offer specifics on how," Klein asked.

Williams did not offer specifics. "I'd like to vote. This is a commissioners' debate," she said.

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Commissioners Mildred Rains (L) and Michelle Williams

Eilerman cast a vote against the surprise resolution. "I very vehemently vote no," he said. "This is ridiculous." With Carran sure to vote against it and Williams and Commissioner Mildred Rains in support of the resolution, the tiebreaker would fall on Commissioner Steve Frank.

Frank sided with Williams and Rains and the resolution passed. "The increases we've had in recent years have been high," Frank said. "I agree about having larger, broader discussions. The whole purpose of my voting yes is for the purpose of having a discussion."

"I can't fathom why you would vote yes on something that was not brought before us," Eilerman told Frank. "I have no idea why we need to move forward."

"He has a right to vote any way he wants to," Rains yelled at Eilerman. "Stop."

"This is my seventh year on commission. This procedure that happened just now has never happened," Carran said. 

"This is nothing new," Rains said, arguing that she witnessed such maneuvers many times during her three decades as a city employee.

Williams maintained a position that the city manager refused to place the item on the agenda.

"I said I would get more information and a representative from SD1 where the public could ask questions," Klein said.

"I don't believe you did say that," Williams said.

"That's it," Carran said. "Maggie, let's move on."

And the next item on the agenda was read.

Following the meeting, Rains did not elaborate on her support of the resolution or her apparent dissatisfaction with the city manager. Williams also did not comment.

Despite the troubled relationship between the two commissioners and himself,Klein said after the meeting that the work environment is still good at City Hall. "I think there's a solid vision with a majority of the commission for the future of the city," he said. Klein said that he thinks that there is a lack of understanding on behalf of Williams of Rains on how a city manager form of government works. 

Klein still has the support of Mayor Carran and Commissioner Eilerman. Eilerman congratulated the city manager on his recent five year anniversary with the city and said that he hopes Klein is here for many more.

"I know as evidenced this evening that we have difficult conversations and you handle it well," Eilerman told Klein.

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

Photo: Covington City Commission from left to right: Eilerman, Frank, Mayor Carran, Rains, and Williams/RCN