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OKI Appointment Divides Erlanger City Council

The decision to appoint Mayor Jessica Fette as the city's representative to the board of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) was met with some protest at Erlanger's city council meeting earlier this month, and again at last week's special council meeting to finalize the plan.

Councilman Tom Cahill had represented the city at OKI board meetings for the past decade, but learned before the Dec. 3 council meeting that Fette would appoint herself this time around.

OKI handles regional transportation project funding and is often a conduit through which federal grant monies are disbursed for local projects.

On Dec. 3, seven council members voted against Fette's self-appointment, defeating the proposal. Corine Pitts, Kevin Burke, Patty Suedkamp, Vicki Kyle, Renee Skidmore, Don Skidmore, and Kathy Cahill opposed the matter.

Tom Cahill joined the others in voting to approve.

Council decided to revisit the issue at a special meeting on Dec. 17 where Fette was ultimately appointed, with earlier opponents to the decision coming around to vote in favor.

"I had a problem with this since the very beginning because I don't think it was handled professionally," Suedkamp said last week. "(Cahill) has served this committee for ten years, he has built an allegiance with these people and to take him off of that without even the courtesy of a phone call, to find out via an email that this is what was planning to be done - I know (former mayor and current Councilman) Tyson (Hermes) will remember that it happened to him under his reign and he swore that it would never happen again. Well, it's happened again."

Fette apologized to Cahill, the mayor said, after not phoning him to discuss the matter. She opted instead to email him.

"I have apologized to Mr. Cahill twice now for not calling him. Instead, I emailed him," Fette said. "I explained that I ran out of time. It's no excuse. I apologized profusely to him.

"There are reasons that I would rather not go into at the moment. If we want to talk about it another time, it would probably be more appropriate."

Hermes offered that Cahill's attendance at OKI board meetings had been an issue, a charge that Cahill disputed. Hermes said that he would apologize if he had been wrong about the charge.

Cahill, in saying that he would again vote to support Fette's opponent, said that he met with the mayor before the previous meeting. "The OKI board is a large entity and to have influence, relationships have to be built," Cahill said. "Over two-plus years, the city has been granted over $1 million in grants from OKI."

Cahill credited city staff and his own work at OKI for securing those funds.

"I do not appreciate that my devotion to do what's best for the city I've lived in my entire life and dedicated many years of service to did come into question after the discussion after the vote," he continued. I did not like that at all."

However, Cahill said, "I believe Mrs. Fette has a plan. I will support her as the appointee."

The conversation over the appointment grew more tense last week when Suedkamp suggested that Fette would have more difficulty fighting for Erlanger as a newer representative to the board, and Hermes questioned whether Suedkamp understood how OKI worked.

"I just can't imagine why you would shake the dice going in and standing up against (Cincinnati Mayor John) Cranley, and (U.S. Senator from Ohio Rob) Portman, and (Cincinnati City Councilman David) Mann," Suedkamp said to the mayor. "(Cahill) has built a rapport with these people. How can you expect to just walk in and bang your foot on the door or slam your shoe on the desk? Everything about this is just completely and totally wrong."

Hermes asked whether Suedkamp had ever been to an OKI meeting. She said that she had not. "I have all the trust in Mr. Cahill," she said. 

"So you know who the president (of the OKI board) is?," Hermes asked. "I was just curious if you were familiar - "

"I know who's running the show right now," Suedkamp replied. "It's Cincinnati, not Erlanger."

Suedkamp answered Hermes's question correctly, noting that Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann is currently the president of the OKI board. 

As discussion on the matter was set to close so that a vote could be taken, Councilwoman Pitts weighed in at Hermes. 

"First, I want to say, of all the council people I have ever, ever served with, you are the most condescending, disrespectful person I have ever met," Pitts said.

Council ultimately approved by voice vote Fette's appointment. 

"You're doing as well as you can," Councilwoman Renee Skidmore said to Fette. "If you put too much on your plate, you can't do it justice. I think you should have left Tom Cahill alone where he was at."

"I hope you learn a lot from this," Suedkamp said to Fette.

Written by Michael A. Monks and Patricia A. Scheyer

Photo: Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette (provided)