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Human Rights Office at City Hall Challenged by Covington Commissioner

Disclosure: The River City News editor & publisher Michael Monks is an appointed member of the Covington Human Rights Commission.

110 square feet in Covington's new City Hall was the source of contention at Tuesday night's city commission meeting.

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights has leased an office from Covington City Hall for eleven years and with the move from Madison Avenue to Pike Street, the Commonwealth of Kentucky had to work out a new lease with the City.

That lease calls for the same rent of $1,200 annually, though the office on Pike Street is somewhat smaller than the one on Madison Ave.

City Commissioner Michelle Williams raised multiple issues with the deal.

"I've had people tell me they feel very uncomfortable coming into the City building with a complaint to you," Williams said to John CK Fischer, the Human Rights Commission employee placed at Covington City Hall. "They don't feel comfortable coming in here and they go to Cincinnati. What do you say about that?"

"They can call me and I'd be happy to go out and meet with them," Fischer said. He added that he is an employee of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and in his capacity services thirty-three counties in northeastern Kentucky. "As far as going to Cincinnati, depending on what their complaint is, I don't know how Cincinnati would have jurisdiction in Northern Kentucky."

Williams also criticized the state office's use of other space inside City Hall. "He's getting a meeting space and everything else that's not included here for $1,200," she said. Williams also complained that she had not seen a copy of the lease though Assistant City Manager Frank Warnock said a copy was in the commission's meeting packet, though that lease was for the old building. There is no formal lease written yet. 

City Manager Larry Klein explained that the use of meeting space is when Fischer advises the monthly meeting of the Covington Human Rights Commission.

"I'm just trying to get more money," Williams said. She asked that the issue be removed from the agenda. It had previously been removed from the prior meeting's agenda without explanation.

"The amount of space here is smaller than the old City Hall," Klein said. "We're probably getting more per square foot. If we ask the state for more money, they would go through a bidding process that could take several months."

"We'd have to go through the same process if we voted no," Williams countered. "We still get rent because (Warnock) said it's on a handshake."

Fischer is already working out of a first floor office at the new City Hall.

At one point, the Commission on Human Rights rented three rooms from the City. "We paid $9,000 every year for three rooms and we didn't ask City Hall for improvements, new paint, anything," Fischer said. "Covington must have made $120,000 on Kentucky Human Rights Commission and for that we haven't asked for anything."

Fischer said he has also been an ambassador for Covington.

"The meetings we hold are to the benefit of Covington and Northern Kentucky," Fischer said. "I can tell you of the time that there was a group from Franklin, Kentucky. They went to the Freedom Center (in Cincinnati) and I had them come over and look at the Covington murals, have lunch in Covington so they can see the progress Covington has made. This is two busloads of people that came over here on my word."

"There's a big difference now," Williams said. "We pay rent now. We didn't pay rent before. Now we do."

Covington sold the former City Hall to the Salyers Group where the boutique Hotel Covington will be developed. The City is now renting 20 West Pike Street from the Salyers who will ultimately have final approval on the sub-lease to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights."

City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman made a motion to approve the sub-lease. "I think your office has been a great part of the city," Eilerman said. As a commercial real estate agent, Eilerman said he did have some questions about the $10 per square foot rate and thought it should be closer to $12, but, "it's a very minor amount of money."

City Commissioner Steve Frank seconded Eilerman's motion and the issue passed 4-0 with Frank and Eilerman joined by Commissioner Mildred Rains and Mayor Sherry Carran. 
Williams offered herself as present-not-voting.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights office at Covington City Hall/RCN
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