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City Commission to Consider Performance Review for City Manager, Vows to Work Together

The stage was set for a lengthy Covington City Commission meeting on Tuesday night.

The regularly scheduled legislative meeting followed days of speculation, heated backroom conversations, dozens of emails, and long threads on social media about the fate of City Manager Larry Klein.

Late last week it seemed possible that Klein would be deposed or allowed to resign, an option bolstered by the emergence of former state senator Joe Meyer as a possible interim replacement.

But then the emails and phone calls started to pour into City Hall from business and neighborhood leaders urging the city's leaders to stay the course and to, if not keep Klein unscathed following the revelation by the state auditor that former finance director Bob Due allegedly stole nearly $800,000, consider implementing a performance review policy.

City Hall's commission chamber was full of spectators, some of whom had circulated emails encouraging supporters of Klein to show up and voice their concerns.

The city commission breezed through a short agenda in a little more than half an hour and when public comments arrived, only two people spoke. Neither addressed the city manager issue.

Mayor Sherry Carran said after the second speaker that anyone who wished to speak but failed to sign up should do so at that moment.

Crickets.

And then came the commissioners' turn to speak. What followed was a drastic departure from the distressed uncertainty of what to do and the consistent dysfunction that so often claimed cooperation at previous meetings throughout their term.

Instead of rancor and unpleasant discourse, there was an apology and a vow to work together more effectively moving forward.

"All of this I know is a little devastating for Larry, so I do want to apologize to you, Larry, personally for in any way hurting your family in this," Commissioner Michelle Williams said. "I've been through it and I don't think your life should be dragged out on Facebook."

"We have talked, Larry and I have talked and I think we're on a new road, so I'm going to leave all that on a positive note. We have cleaned our slate and started clean. I hope everyone in the city can look at that in a positive view."
 
"We will have a discussion about how we can keep the city on a positive momentum," Williams continued. "We're still doing out best to get our work done, even though all this chaos is going on. We're still trying to keep Covington beautiful. Stick with us and we'll make it happen for you."
 
"We're exploring a process that is reasonable and measurable," Commissioner Chuck Eilerman said of a possible performance review of Klein, a clear compromise between dueling factions on the commission that battled over whether to replace the city's chief executive officer. Eilerman and Carran have been outspoken defenders of the city manager. It appeared recently that Williams and Commissioners Steve Frank and Mildred Rains were potentially positioned to remove him from his job.
 
Eilerman said the review process would be fair and professional with the help of "outside support and qualified people" to help. "I'm optimistic we're going to resolve the issues in the news the last couple weeks and come to a reasonable and positive solution," he said.
 
Rains and Carran both thanked the large crowd for showing up.
 
"It's good to see everyone here supporting us and understanding that things are not always easy and can be difficult," Carran said. "It has been difficult here because we all do care about the city. We want the city to keep going forward on a positive path. A number of business leaders have approached us and given us some guidance and helped us come together. I think things are good right now."
 
Carran said that she hopes the commission can move forward on "a couple ideas" and that they would be stronger. "We do care about the city. It's not our interests, it's the city's interests."
 
With that, Carran adjourned the meeting, one noted by Assistant City Manager Frank Warnock as the second in a row with unanimous votes throughout. The commission chamber offered polite applause at the civility and comments.
 
Following the meeting, Commissioner Frank said that the outpouring of emails and phone calls had no effect on the position he expressed publicly with his fellow commissioners. "They could line up all the way to the Governor's Mansion," he said, adding that he wanted to understand how the review process would work. He said the move implements a business model into the city government, noting that many business executives are subjected to such reviews on a regular basis.

"I think the community involvement was very welcome," Eilerman said. "A community that's engaged, that's a positive."

Frank said the decision will "let things calm down a bit". "This will improve everyone's effectiveness," he said. He added that the decision to implement a review plan was not a punishment for Klein. "We think this is the right way to go," he said.

Eilerman called it a "reciprocal process" in which Klein and the commission will hold each other to certain standards and expectations. "I hope we get into the habit of working together respectfully," Eilerman later said on Twitter. "Fingers crossed."

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

Photo: Covington City Commission meeting Tuesday nignt/RCN

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