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Independence Mayor, Councilman Air Disagreement Over Business Assistance

 

The mayor of Independence and a city councilman took to Facebook with criticism aimed at one another.

It ultimately ended with an apology and a promise to work together.

It started last week when Councilman Bill Aseere shared to his Facebook page an article from The River City News about the City of Fort Mitchell's small business relief plans. Aseere applauded his Kenton County neighbors.

“I asked our mayor in Independence to look into something like this on March 18 and he responded we don’t have the resources… meanwhile, the city sits on over $4 million in reserves the last time I saw the number," Aseere said in the post.

Aseere owns two small businesses in Independence, a Donato's Pizza and Whit's Frozen Custard, and stated that he did not want to see any small businesses in the city close for good.

“I do have an understanding of what small business owners are going through right now,” Aseere told The River City News last week. “They not only need help from federal but from their cities as well. I want to fight for them. And, I would like it known that in the event the city offered some assistance, I would opt out of it for my businesses because it would be a conflict of interest.”

Mayor Chris Reinersman took exception to Aseere's Facebook post, so he shared a screenshot of the councilman's post and offered his own comment two days later.

“I really dislike going to social media to air dirty laundry and such,” the mayor said in his rebuttal. “Unfortunately, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.”

According to Reinersman’s post, Aseere, “has a history of taking to Facebook and making accusations which can be misleading and, also tend to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing…”

However, Aseere said that he feels that it’s acceptable to use social media as a form of discussion and voicing opinion. 

“The mayor always pushes for transparency,” he said. “I’m big on that as well. If you can have a conversation on Facebook, why not? I think this is the wave of the future. There’s no harm in letting people express their opinions.”

Reinersman, according to his post, is more comfortable with in-person discussion, but decided to take to his own Facebook page after Aseere’s April 13 post. In his post, Reinersman said, first, the mayor doesn’t have the ability to provide financial assistance to business. Instead, it’s up to city council to pass legislation.

“Regardless, he didn’t really ask me if I plan to ‘look into something like this for Independence,’ much less offer to look into it himself or propose a program,” Reinersman continued. “Instead, what he specifically said was: ‘Are you planning on discussing any potential assistance from the city for businesses in the city if things continue to go south? I haven't heard a peep from the city side, which is really frustrating both as a person who has businesses in the city and as a city council member.’

Aseere told RCN that he did bring up the topic of financial assistance for businesses to the mayor via text message on March 18. 

Reinersman said that he responded to the text by replying that he believes that financial assistance to small businesses is limited to a state and federal level and that “we don’t have the kind of resources to make any kind of difference, particularly considering the likely fiscal impact of this crisis to the city.”

According to Reinersman, officials are projecting a $460,000 decline in business tax revenue.

In his post, Reinersman said that Aseere is the only local business owner to have asked about financial assistance. He also said that current reserves are at recommended levels for a city of Independence’s size. 

Aseere said that the reserves are there for “rainy days.” 

“It’s not just raining right now,” Aseere said. “It’s storming. We’re in a pandemic.”

Aseere said that he proposes that the city dip into its reserves, and that the council and mayor give up their salaries to fund a business support program. He said he sent out an email laying out his plan, but as of 2:30 p.m. April 15 had gotten no response.

Reinersman said in his post on April 15 that he has spoken to several other mayors and it is generally the case, that financial assistance to businesses, particularly for suburban cities who’s primary tax base is residential property taxes, comes from the federal or state governments.

“Urban cities, with a majority of revenue derived from business, like Covington, Newport and Cincinnati are different,” he said. “In addition, the urban core has the benefit of a greater number of state and federal funding sources for economic development that can be potentially utilized.

“To a much lesser extent, more affluent suburban cities which derive significant revenue from business also may offer something. In fact, I had a call from the Chamber of Commerce yesterday (prior to Mr. Aseere’s post) to discuss what cities were doing. To date, they are aware of some type of programs in Covington, Newport, Fort Mitchell and Fort Thomas. We don’t have all of the particulars yet, but I’ve heard these are typically repayable loan programs, rather than grants.”

Reinersman said that he too applauds Fort Mitchell for supplying a funding to their small businesses.

“The reality, however, is that Fort Mitchell is a more affluent community with a very diverse tax base which includes substantial business taxes from office parks and large businesses, as well as several revenue sources like an insurance premium tax, a roads tax and a parks tax, in addition to property taxes,” he said. 

Reinersman responded to a message from RCN for further comment. "I said my piece on the post and think it pretty well covers my thoughts. I don’t intend to be uncooperative, I just have no desire to see this escalate further," Reinersman said.

The mayor later shared a message that he received from Aseere.

"Well, that escalated quickly. I think my original post has been gravely taken out of context," Aseere wrote, according to the mayor. "I have never once advocated for my businesses to be on the receiving side of any potential city stimulus. In fact, if something ever came out of all of this for business owners in the city, our businesses would decline the opportunity due to an obvious conflict of interest. My intentions were truly to look into ways to help small business owners so we don’t lose anyone!

"I think the Mayor is handling this pandemic about as well as he can. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, the intentions of my original post were to try to convince the Mayor to look into a possible small business fund like other cities in the area have started doing, and clearly I went about it in the wrong way. And for that, I apologize."

Written by Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor

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