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Fight Continues Over Who Knows What at Covington City Hall

What did they know and when did they know it depends on whom you ask at Covington City Hall.

At Tuesday night's city commission meeting another contentious dispute erupted over the hiring of an interim finance director to replace Bob Due who was fired August 27 after being accused of embezzling what is now believed to be roughly $600,000. Due was hospitalized Tuesday for the second time since his arrest, suffering what was reported to be a self-inflicted stab wound to the torso.

The hiring of longtime Kenton County Treasurer Ivan Frye passed 4-0 with Commissioner Michelle Williams "present, not voting". Frye will serve on an interim basis at an annual salary of $81,731 and will not be a candidate for the permanent position.

One the same day the city commission unanimously voted to fire Due, Accounting & Operations Manager Jerome Heist was elevated to interim director of the finance department but on Tuesday night was returned to his previous position.

"On this particular issue, I'm not pleased with the order of how this went down," Williams said from the dais. "There needs to be some discussion on how fair it is to make this decision."

Williams did not believe it was fair to promote Heist and then return him to his previous position after such a short period of time. "She noted Due, Heist, Frye, and whoever is hired full-time down the road when she said, "In a short period of time we will have had four people with their hands in the pot."

"You snatched it from (Heist) after two weeks."

"Mr. Heist made it clear that he is not going to be a candidate for the full-time position and welcomes Mr. Frye to the department," said City Manager Larry Klein. With the increased work load involving two investigative audits and the regular annual audit on top of installing new software and preparing for a move to the new City Hall, the finance department will have its hands full, Klein said. "Having Ivan will allow them to do their job."

"It was a shock to the system to have (Due) in the situation he was in and (Heist) stepped up," said Commissioner Chuck Eilerman.

Williams wanted to know how much the change would cost and Klein explained that Heist would be paid as interim director for the time he served in that role, a little under two weeks. H ealso suggested that the City saved money because the salary was lower than Due's. Klein also said that the quick appointment of Heist was to fill the need of having a name on city checks.

"Interim means interim," Mayor Sherry Carran said. "This was discussed with (Heist) and he's fine with it."

"This is not to cast any dispersions on anyone in the department but having someone from the outside is the appropriate thing to do," said City Commissioner Steve Frank. "I think we would be short-sighted not to use (Frye's) expertise."

"We should have done that the first time," Williams said.

"(Frye) was gracious enough to offer his expertise," the mayor said. "It's not like we're turning over our books to four strangers."

"This happens to be another job we're just giving to someone without them applying," Williams said.

"This is a special situation and this is what we're doing," Carran said. "I know the people in our finance department and this is a stressful, difficult time for them and I know they are grateful for (Frye) being there."

Frye started on the job last Monday, September 3 and was officially hired retroactively on Tuesday.

During the public comments portion of the meeting it was debated whether all elected city commissioners were adequately aware that Frye would be hired. Covington School Board Chairman Jerry Avery took to the podium and questioned whether all the commissioners were involved in recent decision-making.

"The answer is, no, Mr. Avery," Williams said. "Some of us were not involved in any of the decision-making."

Commissioner Mildred Rains agreed. "I was called and told we were hiring Ivan Frye," Rains said.

City Manager Klein said that he was set on recommending hiring Frye and phoned the mayor and the commissioners. "I spoke with every one of the commissioners in person or on the phone before (Frye) started," he said. "There was a consensus."

Knowing that there were at least three votes in supporting Frye's hiring, City Hall moved forward and put the financial veteran on the job prior to Tuesday's vote.

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

Photo: Covington City Hall/RCN file