Erlanger Council's Tedious Task Devolves Into Debate Over Grandstanding
In what was a characteristically contentious and passive aggressive gathering, Erlanger city council convened virtually Tuesday night for a special meeting to discuss property tax rates, the Legacy Revitalization Grant, and a revision and update to the city's code of ethics.
The meeting followed accusations from council members Corine Pitts and Rebecca Reckers that Mayor Jessica Fette was decreasing transparency, canceling committee meetings, and delaying a review of a planned revision of the city's code of ethics.
After some initial business, the meeting turned to the tedious task of editing the code of ethics, an opportunity that Councilman Tyson Hermes, an ally of the mayor, seized to agitate Pitts and Reckers, and their allies. It then turned to an exploration of what "grandstanding" meant.
City Administrator Matt Kremer said that he did not yet have all of the numbers needed for a full discussion on tax rates, so that topic will be revisited on September 8.
Tax bills have to go out by September 15.
Meanwhile, the revitalization grant that the city awards will be amended to include businesses that have not yet reached the ten-year mark in their history in Erlanger.
Councilwoman Rebecca Reckers presented a rough draft of revisions to the code of ethics, which hasn't been updated since 1994.
Council members went through the lengthy document and highlighted areas that may need to be changed.
Councilman Tyson Hermes spent roughly an hour going through the document again making subtle changes like capitalizing "City" and "Official", and suggested that if a member insisted on something that turned out to be a mistake, that that member or official should have to make a public apology, admitting their mistake and guilt.
Some viewed that as an attempt to shame someone.
Hermes then suggested that all members should state they would uphold the Constitution of the United States.
The suggestion was met with silence before Councilman Gary Meyer responded that that happens when council members take their oath of office.
Hermes responded that members should declare their allegiance to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He said then if he had a complaint, he wouldn't have to file a lawsuit in the state, but that he would just go to the Board of Ethics.
Hermes argued that council members violate official rules when conducting committee meetings to which some responded that more people could be added to committees or committees could be consolidated.
Other suggestions brought forth by Hermes included that all members should be subjected to regular alcohol and drug tests, a dress code, banning t-shirts and obscenities at meetings.
Hermes argued that there should be no grandstanding at meetings.
Reckers then suggested that he would be in violation of that standard in that moment.
Hermes then turned to nepotism in the code of ethics and argued that no board member, city official, or employee should advocate for the election of a relative.
Erlanger city council currently has two pairs of relatives on it.
The meeting adjourned shortly after, though Hermes offered this statement:
"Grandstanding is defined as "seeking to attract applause or favorable attention from spectators or the media"", he said. "I didn't do that. Filibustering is to "act in an obstructive manner in a legislature". I didn't do that either, but I am used to dealing with Mrs. (Councilwoman Corine) Pitts' accusations and misunderstanding.
"We have a majority of council (again) that wants to punish our Mayor at every opportunity because she beat their "pal" in the election. They "flex" their legislative muscle at every opportunity, no matter how ridiculous the reason.
"In this case, we had a Mayor who cancelled the meeting because she knew there was nothing pressing on the agenda. A few council members "flexed their legislative muscle" to force a Special Meeting. They wanted desperately to discuss the Code of Ethics (I believe they wanted to shame me, or put me on the spot. The only problem was I didn't break any Ethics Codes or State/City Statutes). They rushed an ordinance to a Committee Meeting without the review of our City Attorney or the Northern Kentucky Regional Ethics Authority. There were SO MANY errors and typos it took me over an hour to identify all the problems. This was necessary due to the nature of a Special Meeting during a pandemic, when the Governor has clearly said even virtual meeting must be for the discussion of ESSENTIAL business ONLY. If they felt it was essential, I felt we better get this ordinance ready, ASAP. I wasn't obstructing the legislature. I was helping it be right, more quickly. Therefore despite the lengthy meeting, a logical person could NOT call that a filibuster.
"When the Mayor had cancelled the meeting, Corine Pitts proclaimed on social media "I will not be silenced". Unfortunately, at the actual meeting she had nothing to discuss, and had no items on the agenda. She was doing it to attract favorable attention from spectators. That is grandstanding."
Pitts replied that the meeting was necessary and that essential business had been discussed except for the sixty minutes of the 75-minute meeting that Hermes spent "filibustering", she said.
Pitts said that Hermes had enough time to review the draft of the ethics code before the meeting and to email those suggestions to Reckers so he didn't have to spend all the time at the meeting on grammatical errors.
She said she really doesn't like that Hermes always goes back to arguing that council members are holding on to bad feelings about the election.
"When Jessica Fette became mayor, I personally reached out to her to start fresh, and told her I hoped we would all succeed together," Pitts said. "My advice to her was don't micromanage, there are 12 council members, not just Tyson, and move on from the past, because the rest of us did the day after elections. That's what people do when they serve in public office. Unfortunately after a few months she took none of that advice."
She went on to say that Hermes campaigned in 2013, coming to meetings and remarking that he didn't like the method of discussing items and then voting on them. According to Pitts, Hermes said at the time that he wanted 'sparks and chaos'.
Pitts said that that is now what Erlanger has, and citizens have complained to her that they haven't seen anything like it for decades.
"It is a toxic work environment, and it didn't have to be, but the mayor made a different choice and let this continue with him," she said. "I apologize to our citizens for our bickering and will continue to try and move our city forward in a positive manner. I think we should all want what is best for the city. I truly believe we have some of the best citizens, staff and first responders around.
"They deserve better than this, we all do."
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael Monks