Covington Meeting Ends Abruptly Before Commissioners' Comments
The Covington city commission meeting was full of important items that were breezily voted on or read in rapid succession, including incentives for businesses and development projects, a ban on conversion therapy targeting LGBT youth (the first such legislation in Kentucky), and updates on the city's investment policies.
But at the end, something unusual happened.
Though commissioners don't always have comments to offer at the conclusion of city meetings, the option is almost always there.
But when the time came on Tuesday night, Commissioner Michelle Williams quickly made a motion to adjourn, which received a second from Commissioner Denny Bowman. Mayor Joe Meyer explained that by the rules under which city commission meetings operate, there is no debate when a motion to adjourn is made and seconded, only a vote on the motion.
The city clerk called the role on the motion to adjourn and Williams, Bowman, and Meyer all voted in favor while Commissioners Tim Downing and Shannon Smith voted against it.
The River City News reached out to all five members of the city commission and heard back from Downing, Smith, and Bowman, but neither Meyer nor Williams responded to an email seeking comment or explanation.
"I was asked by Michelle if I would second her motion to adjourn after our last vote. I have no idea what Mr. Downing was upset about," Bowman said via email. "I wish he would have spoke up. The commission guidelines for a meeting Downing was part of establishing."
Downing told RCN that he had hoped to talk about several issues, including some related to the city's response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic which affected state and city operations, as well as the way local businesses and organizations operate. He provided The River City News with a copy of the comments he had planned to share.
"These are trying times, and as I mentioned last week I couldn't be prouder of my community," Downing wrote in his comments. "So many of you reaching out to me, to the city, to local businesses, to your neighbors, looking to identify ways to help. We've identified one of those ways recently: our local police force is in need of additional protective equipment, masks and gloves. Please continue to limit the number of trips from your home but if you can spare any of these items for our police force it would be greatly appreciated. We will provide details for a drop off location tomorrow.
"This leads me to my next comment to the commission about our city parks. I've received numerous calls late last week and this weekend about groups congregating in our parks. I love that people are enjoying our facilities, but if these reports are true we need to take a hard look at shutting them down during this outbreak. It would break my heart to close them, but with our neighbors in Newport and Ohio both closing their parks during this time it's important that we try to stay ahead of the curve and protect our citizens. We cannot take the business as usual approach."
Downing continued by saying that the city should "start leading by example."
"The governor has asked that we start working from home if you can, and while we've made our first steps I know we can do better. We need to limit our interactions if at all possible. That means meetings like this one. We cannot continue to operate in a business as usual capacity. Every time we meet unnecessarily, we roll the dice. We potentially make this whole process longer - and we are making a statement that isn't in line with the sacrifices that so many are making.
"We must all make our best efforts to "show up" in our community without being physically present. I know we will make it through this together, but only if we stay apart."
Covington City Hall has closed to the public as part of the social-distancing effort being implemented worldwide in an effort to slow the spread of the respiratory virus. City commission meetings are able to be watched on cable or later online by the public, but media members are still permitted to attend while maintaining appropriate distance.
The River City News, which often attends city commission meetings in person, opted to watch on cable from home. Downing was asked by RCN why he thinks he may have been cut off from making those remarks during the public meeting on Tuesday night.
"I think that the commission as a whole has been working very hard to make sure we can put the city in the best place possible as it relates to this response and I think as try and prioritize these different goals, I think that some of the commission is interested in having a more unified response, and differeing voices at this time may not necessarily - I don't think everyone views different voices were going to push is in the right direction," he said.
Downing said that he was upset by reports of large groups of people at city parks in Covington, particularly as Ohio and Newport parks have closed theirs. "And so, having a discussion about whether or not to close those or take another look at closing Devou (Park) is not something all the commission is in favor of at this point," Downing told RCN.
"That being said, that's the time we should be having those discussions, in those meetings.'
"It's disappointing," Downing said, "because I have always believed that even a dissenting voice or any different idea or perspective should always be (heard). Any time we have those types of discussions, it's a good time to stop and reflect on what we are doing differently."
Downing said that he was surprised by the abrupt closure of the city commission meeting on Tuesday night and that he did not expect it. "I was actually quite surprised," he said. He said that he was able to talk briefly with Williams, "but she had to go, and it was difficult because of the six-foot different," he said, referencing the recommended space between people to maintain appropriate social distancing.
Commissioner Smith also had planned to offer comment at the end of Tuesday night's meeting, but were not related to parks or meeting at City Hall. Instead, she wanted to note that Second Sight Spirits, a Ludlow distillery, is now making hand sanitizer in response to the coronavirus pandemic. She also had questions about a county animal ordinance.
"If we did get to comment, I know Commissioner Downing wanted to reinforce the need to have remote meetings as soon as feasible," Smith said in a message to RCN. "I would have echoed that!"
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher