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Grayson: Covington Commission Must Make Good Faith Effort for Civility

"I think we should all give the Covington City Commission a round of applause. They're all sitting together tonight."

Former Kentucky Secretary of State and current Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University Trey Grayson ribbed Covington's elected officials Thursday night.

Grayson was the keynote speaker at the Covington Business Council annual dinner where Gateway Community & Technical College President & CEO Dr. Ed Hughes was awarded the 2013 Founders Award and where prominent Northern Kentucky attorney William Robinson served as emcee.

"I read (City Commissioner) Steve Frank's Fcaebook posts and they get better the later it gets," Grayson continued.

Grayson took questions from the large group of attendees that included government, civic, business, and community leaders from Covington and Northern Kentucky and during a one-on-one interview with The River City News prior to the event, weighed in on the US Senate race that will likely be between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and the Democrat who has Grayson's former job as Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes. He also offered perspective on redistricting of the legislative seats in the Commonwealth.

Asked if in his new role at Harvard whether he follows municipal government issues, Grayson said, "I follow Covington."

"It's difficult to go from the collegiality of the previous year," to the current dysfunction and contention on the commission now, he said. "It's almost like there's a lot of spite right now."

Grayson is aware of the apparent factions that blossomed when the new city commission took over in January with Commissioners Mildred Rains and Michelle Williams on one side, Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioner Chuck Eilerman on the other, and Commissioner Steve Frank in the middle, though he more often than not sides with Carran and Eilerman.

Many votes have ended 3 - 2, a stark contrast from the heralded "unified commission" under former Mayor Chuck Scheper in 2012 where nearly every item passed or failed 5 - 0.

The presence of the city commission at the same table Thursday night was a significance not lost on Grayson.

He is also quite familiar with Carran and Frank from his childhood and early years in Kenton County. His family lived in Carran's former house in Park Hills which is just two doors down from where Frank's mother lived. He also knows Eilerman from his past.

Grayson commented on the unusual nature that Covington's city commission has such fresh faces when the previous norm had been at least one or two members having served for upwards of twenty years or more. The newness and the smallness of the commission may be at least partially to blame for the current strife, he said.

"When you have just four or five people you're in each other's faces a lot," said Grayson, who also lived in Covington for a couple years at one point.

At Thursday's event at the Metropolitan Club atop the RiverCenter towers, Grayson offered some advice on restoring collegiality. 

"You have to make a good faith effort," he said. "You can disagree civilly and right now they're not disagreeing civilly."

"The body has to recognize that everybody is to blame. Everybody has to be better for the good of the community."

Other notes from Grayson's visit:

He's pretty certain that McConnell will be reelected to the US Senate but doesn't think the race will be a "blow out". Grayson also believes that actress Ashley Judd would have been a more "interesting" candidate for the Democrats to put up against McConnell. 

Meanwhile, as the Kentucky General Assembly prepares to return to Frankfort for a special session to address the redistricting of their seats, Grayson said he has warmed to the idea that an independent commission should handle that process instead of the legislators themselves. "I'm not ready to say I support it but I'm starting to think there is something to that," he said.

"In Kentucky, the Democrats in the House throw the Democrats in the Senate under the bus, and the Republicans in the Senate throw the Republicans in the House under the bus," he said.

Kentucky's Senate is Republican-controlled while Democrats have the majority in the House. Whether the Republicans' public effort to take over the House may depend on the ferocity of the McConnell-Grimes race, he said.

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

Photo: Trey Grayson speaks at the Covington Business Council dinner on Thursday/RCN