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Verbal Confrontation Erupts at Covington City Hall Between Commissioners, Administrators

UPDATE (Thursday 7:49 a.m.): City Commissioner Michelle Williams took to Twitter this morning to say that a meeting between her and the city manager scheduled for today has been canceled. "The City Manager said he would put the budget breakdown on the City's website. Has anyone seen it?," WIlliams wrote. "The City Manager cancelled a meeting today with me and Commissioner (Mildred) Rains. I guess we will never get our hands on the Budget breakdown."

ORIGINAL POST FROM WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON:

A verbal confrontation that lasted several minutes erupted inside City Hall after a city commissioner was told not to attend a staff meeting.

Commissioner Michelle Williams posted to her Twitter profile that, "I've been attending staff meeting for months, and now the City Manager, Mayor & Eilerman have kicked me out. WHY? What's the Secret?"

Williams could not be reached yet for further comment but this story will be updated when she is reached.

Meanwhile, sources inside City Hall tell The River City News that when Williams was refused admittance to the staff meeting that would have been led by City Manager Larry Klein, an argument ensued. The specifics of what was said was not made clear to this newspaper but voices were raised, insults were thrown, and the staff meeting was postponed if not canceled. Klein, sources say, excused the staff from the room so that they did not have to witness the exchange.

Mayor Sherry Carran and City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman were also present and are in agreement that the city manager has the legal authority to host staff meetings without the presence of elected officials. While present at the altercation, neither Carran nor Eilerman were to attend the scheduled staff meeting.

Carran apologized for her role in the argument. "I'm disappointed that I lost control of my behavior at one point," she told The River City News. "I'm disappointed in myself." 

Williams has been attending staff meetings regularly but was asked not to attend this one. "It's just a standard practice for one thing," the mayor said. "I did try to explain to (Williams) that my first year on commission I sat in on a meeting because I was curious about the process and I understood the value of them being able to discuss things freely without politicians getting in the way. It's important that staff can have open dialogue with (Klein) and not be inhibited in voicing their opinion."

Williams, along with City Commissioner Mildred Rains, have often voted together in a two-person minority on the five-member city commission that includes the mayor. They have often voted against many of the measures supported by Carran and Klein since their term began in January.

In a meeting in early May, Williams surprised the board of commissioners with a resolution that would oppose a proposed rate increase by the Sanitation District. Carran, Eilerman, and Klein argued that there may have been incorrect information in the resolution as drafted and that it was not an urgent matter and could wait for the next meeting. Williams shot Klein down when he tried to speak.

"This is a debate for commissioners," Williams said at the meeting, 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 position that Klein is charged with running the city's day to day affairs is a point of contention within this current city commission, sources tell The River City News. Legally, no individual member of the commission, including the mayor, can institute policy or direct staff to perform a task. The power of Covington's elected government is in a majority vote by the commission.

"Our responsibility is to be a commission that collaborates where can try to make our city better and there are two individuals who are not doing that," Mayor Carran said, referencing Commissioners Williams and Rains.

Carran said that she is in the process of inviting a representative from the Kentucky League of Cities to sit down with the current city commission to explain the city manager form of government and to get a handle on the seemingly endless dysfunction and behind-the-scenes aggravations.

Carran said that some commissioners were not happy that she has sought outside help to ease the inability of the commission and administration to communicate respectfully.

The mayor said that if KLC sends help that she would ask that be in a public format where citizens can participate and witness the event. A message left with a representative from KLC was not immediately returned but will be included in any future updates when available.

After several months of antics and arguments behind closed doors, the dysfunction has spilled into the public forum and also at staff meetings but at last week's meeting every item on the agenda was approved with a unanimous vote. Klein's proposed budget for the next year, an ambitious plan to rebuild the city's infrastructure and address multiple quality of life issues, was met with applause by people in attendance.

But with this latest meltdown inside City Hall, any new optimism that a corner had been turned toward civility could be lost.

"The last thing we want to do is shed a negative light on the city, especially with everything that happened in the last week," the mayor said. "I think it's apparent, the work that's gone into this budget and when you have an audience at a city meeting applaud the effort, then hopefully we can move forward on it."

This story will be updated

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

Photo: Covington City Commission. Front Row (L-R): Michelle Williams and Mildred Rains, Back Row (L-R): Steve Frank, Mayor Sherry Carran, and Chuck Eilerman/via the City of Covington