Publisher of NKY Facebook News Pages Sued by Renaissance Covington
This story has been updated to include comment from Richard Hines and to correct the date that the lawsuit was filed (October 2018, not October of this year.
Renaissance Covington has filed suit against the publisher of what is called the "Northern Kentucky News Network", a series of Facebook pages that purport to report news about the region. It uses pages with names like Northern Kentucky News, Covington News, Latonia News, Kenton County News, Boone County News, Florence KY News, Campbell County News, Newport KY News, Grant County Buzz, Northern Kentucky Life, and more.
The River City News is not affiliated with that network in any way and operates as a Kentucky-based limited liability company with an office in downtown Covington.
The operator of the NKY news network sites is Richard Hines, a former Covington resident who now lives in Florida and Georgia, according to his website. He also claims to own a home in Fort Thomas.
In the suit, which was filed in October of last year and has a motion hearing scheduled in Kenton Circuit Court on Monday morning, Renaissance Covington (RCOV), a downtown promotional and civic organization, claims that Hines, through a series of posts to his news network, defamed former executive director Katie Meyer.
Katie Meyer, who left her post with the organization a year ago to take a job at Cincinnati Bell, is the daughter of Covington Mayor Joe Meyer.
Though Hines has long been an agitator and critic towards RCOV, a series of posts about the organization's finances is what inspired the suit against him.
On September 22, 2018, Hines posted to multiple pages in his Facebook news network that Renaissance Covington was one of two Covington-based organizations that "may file for bankruptcy." The other was Mainstrasse Village Association, which did file for bankruptcy and shutter.
RCOV, on the other hand, challenged Hines's assertion. In his post, Hines wrote, according to the suit, that both organizations were "ineptly unable to promote" and that RCOV had "run out of money and is considering its options."
The next day, RCOV attorney Shannon Smith, who was running for city commission at the time, and currently serves as a city commissioner in her first two-year term, emailed a cease and desist order to Hines. The order demanded that Hines remove all references to RCOV having run out of money or planning to file for bankruptcy. Smith's letter also called for Hines to correct his posts and to apologize for them.
Smith's letter warned Hines that RCOV could seek legal action. It also informed Hines that the organization's financial information was available to the public.
Part of the cease and desist letter sent by attorney Shannon Smith to NKY News Network publisher Richard Hines
On September 26, Hines returned to posting about RCOV's finances.
"Renaissance Covington refuses to release info about its current financial status," Hines wrote at his Facebook pages. Charlene Dietz, a Covington resident who is listed as a contributor to Hines's Facebook pages, picked up documents from RCOV. "It won't release a verified financial statement as of September 22, when the item was posted at the NKY News Network. It did give us a copy of its budget for fiscal year 2016-17 which tells us nothing. A spokesperson claims the organization is late with its 2018 report due to an accounting change."
On that date and in that same post, Hines wrote through his NKY News Network pages, "We don't know if the organization is broke or not. A list of cash on hand vs. liabilities would answer that question but, so far, the nonprofit that is backed by the City of Covington has refused to do that."
Hines has long been critical of Renaissance Covington and members of the Meyer family.
His series of Facebook pages started with one named for the Covingon neighborhood in which he lived close to Mayor Meyer and his family, Old Seminary Square. That page later evolved into one with a different name and then a series of other pages followed, later all branded together by Hines as the NKY News Network, which mostly aggregates content from other media sources.
Hines is often criticized by users of his pages for his deletion of comments and banning of people from the pages.
He recently, on November 17, threatened to shut down the operation unless he received 1,000 comments about the network on a designated post. As of this writing, the post had 81 comments.
The current executive director of Renaissance Covington, Nick Wade, declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing legal matter.
Richard Hines issued a statement to The River City News on Wednesday night. "NKY News Network keeps a watchful eye on governments and publicly-funded organizations. It's what the media used to do," Hines said. "Renaissance Covington in September 2018 agreed to provide current financial statements but they were out-dated and irrelevant.
"The organization is asking for a retraction on an opinionated post and I have refused to consider it until NKY News Networks gets those financial statements for September 2018. This lawsuit has been going on for over a year."
Hines said that he plans to file a counter-suit against Renaissance Covington, Katie Meyer, and all board of directors who served in 2018 and 2019.
He also took exception with RCN's characterization that the NKY News Network mostly aggregates news content from other media sources.
"NKY News Network composes its own stories and are posted at newsnky.com (but not over the past month as I have been working on another project)," Hines said. "Not just social media. Please get your facts right."
A request for comment from the Law Offices of Shannon Smith has not yet been returned.
The suit requests a jury trial for the complaint of defamation, invasion of privacy, and injunctive relief.
The statements about RCOV's supposed imminent bankruptcy filing, as posted by Hines, "were made with malice, recklessness, and negligence," the suit claims. "The statements were made to damage, embarrass, and attack the reputation of RCOV and Katie Meyer.
"RCOV and Katie Meyer suffered harm as a result of the publications."
The suits seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and also demands that Hines not publish references to RCOV.
Monday's motion hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. in Kenton Circuit Court in Covington.
The Kenton County Circuit Court Clerk's office was able to provide a copy of the complaint but could not on Wednesday provide a copy of the requested motions to be considered on Monday.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher