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The City Hall Emails: Part Two

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EXCLUSIVE

For part one of The City Hall Emails click here.

The rocky relationship between Covington City Commissioner Michelle Williams and City Manager Larry Klein has been on display publicly multiple times during city commission meetings. Behind the scenes that relationship appears to be even more difficult. 

In a May 1 email to Commissioners Michelle Williams and Mildred Rains, Klein wrote:

From my meeting notes yesterday and today, the following is a list of what information that you requested:
 
Please let me know if there is anything else to add to this list and if I have it stated correctly below:
 
1) Two basketball rims at park on 19th Street. One installed second on order.
 
2) Striping for on street parking on MLK boulevard. I will check with Mike for his recommendation.
 
3) Discarded utility pole along MLK between Holman and Fisk should be removed.
 
4) CDBG budget in detail.
 
5) New website development update
 
6) City building lease (in progress)
 
7) New street can/old street can relocation timetable
 
8) Beeper at 26th and Madison too loud. KYTC reports to me that they have spent many hours with affected residents and this is the noise level that KYTC is maintaining on this crosswalk device for visually impaired pedestrians so they can find the crosswalk location.
 
9) City Center parking garage agreement with Salyers
 
10) Status of on street handicapped parking spaces on Wheeler between Pleasant and Byrd.
 
11) Update on work orders in Urban Forestry Division
 
12) 2 trees on Benton still leaning
 
13) Capital budget. Bob provided current year capital budget today. Want to see detail, general ledger.
 
14) Last Finance Committee meeting documents. Bob brought up to meeting today.
 
15) Policy on "booting" vehicles with unpaid parking citations.
Williams responded to the email with these notes:
2) Striping for on street parking MLK Blvd. Larry I really don't need Mike to make a recommendation for striping, I'm recommending that we do it. Do I need three votes? What I need from you is a time and date when the work will be completed. I will discuss with Mike the need for this and consider his recommendation as well as Commission input on it.
 
4) I'm still waiting for the breakdown for the HOME and CBDG Funds. This item is on the agenda for Tuesday, surely you have all the details ready, and I would like that in my box today. I will ask Larisa for this information. I believe much of it was presented in the powerpoint at last meeting. I do not think there is a line item by line item list of expenditures as many are unknown at this point, rather the expenses are categorized into broad classifications (streets, recreation, police, etc) according to HUD regs.
 
5) I will need in update on the status of the website and the news letter. I will ask Natalie for update on website. I know it is under development with Systems Insight and will be launched once it is complete. Commission will get a preview when it is ready before it is launched. What happened to the news letter? Is it coming back? Why did it stop? Who is responsible for this now? The e-newsletter was discontinued and in its place the information is being disseminated through various other media releases produced by Natalie Bowers.
 
8) I talked to Teri Meyer 859-491-2045 about the beeping. She said that she was blind not deaf and that the beeping was to loud. Please call and speak with a resident that knows what she is talking about. I can call her but keep in mind state highway department has final say and they have already met and worked with the impacted indiviudals including Teri.
 
10) We need to set up a solution meeting for residents on Wheeler Street. Me, You and Mike Y. as soon as possible. Hopefully next week. This problem needs to be resolved. I agree we can focus on this. I will first want to talk with DPI about the handicapped striping out there and will include Mike.
 
15) I think that you should be aware of all policies that require residents to pay additional fees. Did AMPCO get brought out, or did they just change the name. And does this new company have policies that the city should be aware of. I do think this is information that you should know and it does matter to the city. I believe Frank responded to this. I will also send you Section 75.44 from City code of ordinances "Authority of City to Impound Vehicles" for unpaid parking citations and other violations.
 
I can only hope that all the issue get address in a timely manner.
Rains also weighed in on one of the issues, writing, "#5. Media releases do not give the citizens an update on what is happening in each department. The newsletter was more comprehensive."
 
Twelve days later, Williams raised these issues with Klein again. On May 13, she wrote:
Hi Larry,
 
I haven't received any updated on item 2 Stripping on MLK.  We still have funds available from the grant and I'm sure that funds is not the hold up, so can you let me know what the issue is.
 
You said you contacted the DOT in reference to the beeping on 26th and Madison, but you didn't say what the results were.  
 
I an still waiting on a meeting with you and Mike Y. to come up with solution to the issue on Wheeler St., but haven't heard anything the problem wont go away, we have to fix it.
 
I also asked you for a work order updates on all the back work orders, I still haven't received.  
 
I need to know if the parking ordinance is going to be updated to reflect "Booting" as we discussed in the meeting with Frank W.  Is this going on the agenda next Tuesday?
 
Have the new Trash Cans arrived? If not can I get a date when that will arrive.
 
We talked about the Sidewalk sweeper over a month ago, and I still haven't seen it out.  What is the hold up?
 
"OMG - Where is our plan to rein this in?," asked City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman to Klein, Assistant City Managers Larisa Sims and Frank Warnock, Mayor Sherry Carran, and City Commissioner Steve Frank.
 
Williams continued. "It seams (sic) like once again that my issues have no priority with this staff," Williams wrote. "Larry, most of these issues have been on the table for a while, and you continue to brush them aside. It would be nice to know what issues the other commissioners have that take priority over any of my issues. You have more than enough staff to assist in these residential issues."
 
Mayor Carran then responded:
Michelle,
Your issues need to be consider(ed) but others also have issues.
I am not going to go into detail but will say that everyone on Commission hears from residents with wants.  
We do not have the resources or the time so (we) have to prioritize these request(s).
Also, what may be good for one resident could be difficult for another.
We have excellent staff at the City so we relay the request to them and give them time to review.
Sometimes things get hectic and we may need to send a reminder, just like sometimes we need reminders because of our busy schedules.
I try to be respectful of staff’s time but also respectful of issues brought to me by residents.
Williams responded to the mayor:
I don't see why you won't go into detail with your resident issues, you have our list.  It seem(s) to me that if all the issues are brought forward to all the Commissioners that we can all have a chance to comment.  What's the secret? I don't claim that my issues are more important than anyone else's but if I don't know (what) your issues are I can't comment or help.  We do have an excellent staff, and I don't doubt their ability to resolve resident issues.  
 
For me it's always about the residents.
Klein then emailed Mayor Carran and said, "Do what you want but I would not respond to these emails."
 
Two days after this email exchange, Williams was asked not to attend a staff meeting, as detailed in part one of The City Hall Emails.
 
"The Bowman Law"

Two weeks later, on May 27, Klein sent an email to department directors requesting a meeting:

Although we do not have a Commission meeting next Tuesday, I thought this would be a good opportunity to complete the exercise in “civility” that I discussed a few weeks ago.
 
My goal with this exercise is for the City Commission and senior staff to better understand each other’s expectations and what each would like to “have” and “give” from/to the other.
 
There is no particular reason for the timing of this exercise, which I also plan to do with the City Commission at some point soon, but I do think it will help to document what we all want from each other, which I suspect will be very similar.
 
Keep in mind all comments will be summarized and no individual identity attached to any particular observation, so please be candid, and respectful as always.
 
I am sending this agenda in advance of our staff meeting so we all have more time to think about the questions.
The sensitive nature of the planned conversation between Klein and other managers inside City Hall prompted the city manager to exclude any elected officials who may have wished to attend the meeting. The meeting was scheduled for May 29. On May 28, Klein met with Williams and Rains again. Following the meeting, Williams emailed the city commission and administrators, saying that Klein abruptly left the meeting:
Once again Commissioner Rains and I met with Larry Kine (sic) for our regular scheduled meeting.  While I had several items that I needed updates on Larry decides that the meeting is not productive for him and gets up to leave the meeting.  This is not the first time he has done this to two Commissioners.  Just because the subject is not what he wants to talk about that doesn't make the meeting non-productive.
 
The discussion was in reference to Tom Logan's continued part-time employment with the City.  I believe that we should be advertising and scouting for this new City Eng(ineer) now!  Why should we wait until Tom leaves?  We need to have a full time City Eng. not a part-time one especially with all the projects going on. Tom is clearly working another job, and I can't believe that he will continue to give the 100% to the City of Covington.
 
We mentioned to Larry that the email he sent on May 10 in reference to Tom did not mention that he would be part-time through December 2013, it stated "Tom will be transitioning his employment with us over the next several months"  there is a big difference in Larry's choice of words when we are in meetings with him.  Things seem to change quickly.  So what is the real answer?  A few month or six months?
 
Larry wants to recommend that when Tom is gone that we hire two people to replace him.  I want to go on record as saying that I do not agree with this, as all of the reorganization is done, if this was not a part of the orginal reorganizaton plan why should we hire addition(al) employees that are not on the flow chart? It seems like we make things up as we go along.  In the email Larry says "we will have a plan for his replacement to discuss with you very soon"  but when we talked with him today, he had no plans to have this discussion.  What kind of timeline is "very soon"?  Can we get a date?  Whats the hold up?  Why aren't you looking for someone now?
 
In the last commission meeting I asked Larry to give the citizens a better breakdown of the city budget.  He said yes and that we could get it posted on the website, but in today's meeting him and Frank W. were reluctant to do this, even though Larry already said he would do it.  How do I get Larry to keep is word to the citizens of Covington?
This is public information and the public should be informed.
 
We continued the contract with CSI for waste removal, in that new contract they promised the City 60 new black trashcans.  I have been trying to get an update on this because several neighborhood associations want the old cans placed in their neighborhood.  Can I get an honest answer on the trashcans?  Its hard to believe that they still have to order the cans, but this is the answer the City Manager gave me today.
 
Are me and Mildred the only Commissioners that want to know why the move to the new City Building is taking so long?  According to Larry, we were going to move in May and that was the absolute deadline, we will be in June in a couple of days, and there is no sign of us moving.  He has moved the date back until sometime in September, thats four months behind schedule.  Stop changing the floor plans to benefit YOU, and maybe we can make one deadline while I'm on the commission.
 
There were several more issues we talked about and I will give you an update soon.
After receiving Williams' email, Mayor Carran emailed Commissioner Eilerman. "Staff meeting tomorrow is at 11:00am," Carran wrote. 
 
"Yes, thanks," Eilerman responded. "I saw Larry and told him I'd be there, and hopefully you and Steve as well. (not in the meeting, but outside) He thanked me for the support."
 
Later, things took another turn for the testy. Williams sent an email to the city commission and administrators:
While in the meeting today, it was brought to my attention that my attending the staff meetings was a problem for Mayor Carran and Commissioner Eilerman and some staff members.  I can't understand why me going to staff meeting can bother anyone, all I do is listen.  I have never made a comment or statement that would cause any conflict in any way.  I don't tell anyone which meetings they should be attending or not attending and if all the information is public anyway what difference does it make.  I will continue to attend the staff meetings until I feel that I am getting honest and accurate information from the City Manager.  Larry said that he had no problem with me attending these meetings, ( I've been going for months) now all of a sudden he does.  Since I can't get the real reason why he wants to kick me out of the meetings Now maybe someone else can get it.
Eilerman responded:
Michelle -
Since you ask, the reason that I support the City Manager in his desire to have a private meeting with his staff is because it is well within his authority to do so. J.D. Chaney at the KLC confirms that such a meeting is not a "public" meeting, and the Manager can determine who does and doesn't attend.
Larry does, in fact, have a problem with your continued attendance. Your attitude towards him and staff, as expressed by your comments at Commission and in shouting heard through the conference room walls, has made several folks uncomfortable discussing issues candidly in your presence.
Your attitude is seen in your comment about receiving "honest and accurate information". I have confidence that is the only type of information you are given.
Williams responded to Eilerman:
The reason I started attending the staff meetings is because I was not getting the information I need to make good informed decisions.  Larry is giving you, Sherry, and Steve information long before Mildred and I get the information, so that we can't change anything or give input.  He goes to the three of you and when you guys are on board then he tells Mildred and I what's going on.  I'm sure you would feel different if you we're on the other of this deal.  Chuck you have shouted at me several times when I didn't agree with you.  Is everyone allowed to display their anger and attitudes except me?
My "attitude" with Larry is valid when he doesn't have accurate information, or when he thinks that we don't need that information, that we want to know.  It's not his place to tell me what I need to know or want to know.
If you are saying that Larry can keep me from attending the staff meeting, he will have to explain this to the residents of Covington. And if I can't come to the meetings, I will just have my own meeting with Dept. Heads, and instead of me keeping my mouth shut in Larry's meeting I can ask all the questions I want in my meeting.
And just so you know, if its going on the Agenda, there's no secret.  Larry said staff didn't want me in the meeting because they can't say anything bad about the Commissioners.
Eilerman then sent an email to Klein, Mayor Carran, and City Solicitor Frank Warnock. "She will NOT have her own meetings with Department heads," Eilerman wrote. "Frank - perhaps you should send her the Bowman ordinance?"
 
Klein responded, "I can assure you she will not be meeting with staff. I will alert them tomorrow that she may be contacting them."
 
The Bowman Ordinance is a reference to section 30.06 of the Covington Code of Ordinances that governs city commissioners and their interactions with city employees. Its nickname derives from the city's former longtime mayor who many current leaders believe was often in violation of the ordinance. The ordinance reads in part,"(A) No member of the Board of Commissioners shall make one-on-one contact with a department or division employee on policy implication matters without involvement therein by the City Manager. (B) No member of the Board of Commissioners shall communicate on a one-on-one basis with any department or division of municipal government in a manner which should effectuate interruption or redirection in the work assignment of a worker or group of workers in any manner other than an initial request for work assignment made directly to the director of the department or his or her designee in his or her absence."
 
Commissioner Mildred Rains countered Eilerman's argument with her own email:
Chuck, There are so many misstatements in the email you sent Commissioner Williams. Staff meetings are not public meetings, she is not "the public". She is an elected official, "Larry's Boss" and he cannot tell her that she can't attend any meeting. You say that issues are not discussed candidly with her, so I guess she is right about not getting straight answers since you have verified it in this email. Also, you do not attend these meetings with her, so how can you be so confident that she is getting accurate information?
Eilerman responded to Rains:
Mildred -
You've put your finger on the main point of our difference. As I understand KY law, none of us individually are "Larry's Boss". Not Michelle, not me, not you, not Steve, not even Sherry.
We have authority as members of a five member legislative body and have power only through our actions there.
We set policy and approve budgets and order/resolutions presented us by staff on a variety of subjects, but we do not initiate them.
In our City Manager form of government, that person is the chief executive officer of the government and handles the administrative decision-making.
It's not for us individually to give orders, direct staff, or demand unreasonable individualized reporting.
My conversations with (Kentucky League of Cities) staff seem to support this view.
It's been suggested that we might bring in Frank Wichmann, the dean of Northern Kentucky municipal law, to meet with us and discuss the law on this in more detail. He has offered to do that, as early as this Friday.
Perhaps he could help us find and agree on a common understanding?
"Good message Chuck!," wrote Klein to Eilerman.
 
Mayor Carran also supported Eilerman's message. "Your message is good so now we see if it makes a difference," the mayor wrote. "Regarding Frank Wichmann meeting with us, are you inviting (Williams & Rains) to join this meeting? I thought the idea was to have Frank Wichmann council Larry, Frank, you and I. If you want it to be with the whole Commission this will have to be a public meeting and changes the whole approach."
 
Klein later wrote to Carran, Eilerman, and City Commissioner Steve Frank:
I appreciate everyone’s support.
 
As I explained this morning, these staff meetings are only time that Larisa, Frank and I have with all other Department Directors at once, and it is important to have open and candid dialogue. 
 
That open and candid atmosphere cannot be achieved when some senior staff naturally feel inhibited to express their professional opinions when it may differ from that of the City Commission or individuals therein. But this is how we as a team develop the plans and recommendations we then bring back to City Commission to consider.
 
I appreciate everyone’s understanding of the need for City staff to work collaboratively and effectively as a team to produce the best plans and recommendations for City Commission to consider.
The staff meeting in question was called the next morning and when Williams showed up to attend, Carran and Eilerman intervened and supported Klein in keeping her out. Souces confirm that Steve Frank was reached via telephone and placed on speaker phone to show his support for Klein's ability to have a staff meeting without Williams present. A loud shouting match ensued, Klein excused his staff from the meeting, and Williams claimed that Mayor Carran told her she was "acting like a little bitch".
 
There was not a public, legislative city commission meeting again until June 11 when the fight could have been addressed, but on the day of that meeting, Williams' past criminal record came to light. Her convictions on misdemeanor charges include theft, marijuana and cocaine possession, and traffic violations. She was also court martialed and discharged from the United States Army in the late 1980s. Williams has not commented on the issues, which according to Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson may preclude her from remaining in office. The matter is now in the hands of the Kentucky Attorney General.
 
Part three of The City Hall Emails will be published at The River City News on Thursday morning.
 

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

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Photo: Covington City Hall