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Dispute Over Emails Emerges Between City Hall, Firefighters Union

The latest of the seemingly endless drama between the Covington Professional Firefighters Local 38 and City Hall involves a request for emails between city officials.

Local 38 issued a news release on Tuesday alleging that City Hall has not cooperated with an open records request. Then, City Hall responded to a request for comment from The River City News. Finally, on Tuesday night, the issue spilled into commission chambers when Local 38 president Mike Lee spoke towards the end of the nearly 4-hour long city commission meeting.

Just before noon, Local 38 issued a press release that said the union had filed an appeal with the Kentucky Attorney General's office after the City of Covington did not submit to its open records request. The specifics of what the union was looking for was not made public. The original request was made on September 16, and asked for email records between "public officials of the City of Covington during August and September of 2016," according to the news release. The City responded within the legal 3-day time period, the union said, and asked for more time to produce the records. Ultimately, according to Local 38, the City said it would be February 10, 2017 before the emails could be produced.

Local 38 amended its request to lower the number of emails requested but said that the City still hasn't cooperated fully. 

In response, the City said that Local 38's request was for more than 2,000 emails. Each email must be reviewed by the city's legal staff before it can be released. According to a statement from the city, Local 38's request was for emails between city officials that excluded one city commissioner - making the task more complicated. Legal staff estimated it would take 250 hours to complete the work before the emails could be exchanged. 

The City stated that the amended request further complicated the work because the originally excluded city commissioner was now included. City staff told Local 38 that the amended request could be fulfilled by December 2016. About 40 emails have been delivered to the union, the City said in a statement.

Lee addressed the city commission on the matter on Tuesday night, offering possible insight into what the union is looking for in the email requests.

"In South Covington, there's been myths floating around that you receive an ambulance in five to six minutes. You do not. You receive a pumper in five to six minutes," Lee charged. "Anytime you need something you get a pumper. But when that goes out in South Covington, you get no fire trucks, no ambulances, no nothing. So, like I said, in the City of Covington, you've reduced the amount of pumpers by 50 percent every single year. I have not been able to get a straight answer from anybody. I've asked several times. I can't get an answer. We're gonna have 114 people, is that right?"

"I think we talked about that earlier," Mayor Sherry Carran said in response.

"The City of Covington right now is budgeted for 110 firefighters. In 2011, we budgeted for 118 firefighters. Currently we have 105 firefighters in 2016," Lee said.

"Sit down with your chief and get the facts straight," Carran said.

"Our facts are straight," Lee said. "I'm trying to find this information and I can't seem to find it." He suggested that the union was being stonewalled by the City.

"That's a very inaccurate statement," City Solicitor Frank Warnock said, arguing that the city is following the rules related to email exchanges and open records requests.

Written by Jason Finnell and Michael Monks