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Covington's New Image Delayed, More Funds Awarded to Branding Firm

Covington's new brand identity was supposed to have been unveiled in November and December last year, according to the original plans announced in August.

That's when the city commission approved an $85,000 contract for Cincinnati-based Landor to develop a new image for Covington.

It is now early February and the public has yet to see one piece of that effort.

On Tuesday night, the city commission approved an additional $36,000 for Landor to create a design for wayfinding signage and business collateral materials (such as business cards and letterhead).

The total $121,000 come from a community challenge grant the city received from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the same grant that funded the Center City Action Plan that was developed throughout 2012 to lay out a path to revitalize Downtown Covington.

On Tuesday, Covington marketing & communications director Natalie Bowers addressed the city commission asking for approval of the funds, supported by an 8-page legal document that said the city is allowed to move forward without putting the project out to bid.

Most city expenditures of more than $20,000 must be bid upon, by law.

Bowers said that because the branding effort is behind schedule and because Landor is already immersed in the project that moving forward with the same firm makes sense. "Note that in order to ensure adequate consultations and approval, the branding effort was a little behind schedule and because Landor is in a unique position to quickly and efficiently complete the scope of work required for the challenge grant, (city staff and the legal department) recommend selecting them to do so," Bowers said.

The legal document prepared in support of not issuing a bid was not available for public viewing.

Bowers said that in retrospect the city should have included these additional funds with the original bid instead of separating them.

"We were unaware of some of the process, how long some of the phases would take, and so wanted to be thoughtful in approach," Bowers said. "In hindsight, we should have combined it."

The city is also up against a deadline mandated by HUD, a point at which the funds could be lost if not activated. The city administration reached out to other branding firms to guage their analysis of the situation and whether they thought the project was one that a firm brought in fresh to the project could complete in time.

The consensus, city staff said Tuesday, was that no, another firm could likely not complete the project in time while making it worth their while.

The funds were approved by a vote of 3-1.

"My issue with this is that you are saying Landor did a great job and got us all involved. It's not Landor. It's staff that messed up and didn't put it out to bid. It has nothing to do with Landor," said Commissioner Michelle Williams who cast the lone dissenting vote. "I'm not questioning Landor, their good work, or whether they should be the ones to finish up the job. It's obvious they should be the ones to finish it up but to ask us to approve this without it going out to bid and you had time to put it out to bid and you weren't sure Landor wasn't going to get it or it would have been put out to bid."

The same allotment of funds was pulled from the commission's previous meeting on January 21. City Manager Larry Klein said he wanted to make sure that the city could procure the contract as a single source bid.

"Lesson learned," Bowers said. "Right now we are focused on the fact that if we don't get this approved and moved forward we have a deadline in April to meet. We litterally will be throwing the money away if we don't make this deadline."

"The specific phase of the project that took longer than we anticipated was feedback where the commission was included and community leaders and we really put a lot of integrity in that process. We wanted to make sure we were picking an identity that worked for everyone."

"This probably needed to go out to bid," Commissioner Steve Frank said. He voted to approve the contract with Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. Commissioner Mildred Rains was absent. "However, you're pointing out that we are at a stage now that if you did bid correctly following procedures which we may or may not have to do by law, depending on your interpretation of statutes, then we are in danger of losing substantial money."

"Had you put it out you would have found only one would have bid for it which is why I'm going to vote for it. We have to be cognizant of deadlines. In the future, let's not do this."

"It was a mistake," Carran said. "This was a learning process for us. If we had to do it over we would have added this component in the original (request for proposals)."

"The exciting thing is, we're poised to getting this implemented," Eilerman said.

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

Photo: C+V=G branding used by Covington since 2012, designed by Landor