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Op-Ed: Building Momentum in Covington

The following op-ed is written by Covington City Commissioner Timothy Downing, a candidate for reelection in 2020.

As summer comes to a close, I find myself missing one of my favorite activities: walking through each neighborhood and speaking with Covington residents individually to hear about the issues most important to them. I believe in a customer service approach to governance; I think that’s why I enjoy connecting with the citizens of the city in this way. It is a unique opportunity to make sure that all voices are heard. I get to have genuine conversations with each resident about the issues that are important to that individual and their family. And that’s what’s critical for good governance.

Reflecting on past conversations, I've had numerous discussions with residents over an endless list of topics: everything from increasing home ownership, job growth, potholes, developing the IRS lot, and the need to help local businesses thrive. While neighborhood association meetings, emails and calls have allowed me to stay in touch with residents on these topics, the one-on-one conversations are the ones I miss. Talking with families across Covington discussing these issues helps us all strive to improve our city. Since I can’t follow-up on these conversations with my usual door-to-door visits and not everyone can attend neighborhood discussions, I wanted to provide an update:

IRS Site: One frequent topic of conversation over the past year has been around the timing of the IRS site and what will take place there. Discussions are ongoing and the city has been approached by a number of developers nationwide. Now that we've taken full ownership of the site, we are preparing the demo/environmental RFP to be issued in late October of this year and anticipating demo completion mid-summer of 2021. Over the past two years we have engaged the public to ensure that both process and timelines are transparent and to allow ample opportunities for community input. Through that process, we are continuing our efforts to encourage the highest and best use while maintaining the walkable nature of the area, typically lower profile mixed-use buildings and capitalizing on improving the urban tree canopy.

Economic Development: Working with private industry, Covington has attracted over $70MM in investments and nearly 1,500 jobs in just the past two years. Even better – we adjusted our approach to incentives to improve our return on investment without damaging our ability to attract new businesses. This change in approach has allowed us to attract companies that want to be part of Covington long term and put down roots as community partners.    

Customer Service: The city of Covington has some amazing employees, and true to form, we’ve been working on ways to leverage that talent to improve our customer service-oriented approach to governance. For larger pieces of legislation, like the revisions to the Neighborhood Development code, we’re working to give residents more advance notice and encourage more community engagement. Similarly, with our ombudsman Liz Glass, residents no longer need to ask the question, “Who should I speak with to address my issue?” Instead of wondering, residents can now contact Liz directly at [email protected] and she’ll point them in the right direction. If you have feedback, we want to hear it. No system is perfect, and we need you to help us continue to work toward perfection.   

Potholes: Speaking of striving toward perfection, the city’s pothole repair approach is on a path toward improvement. Historically, our approach to street repair and replacement has been qualitative. The city was divided up into three large sections and evaluations would be done in a given area every three years. Although this is a reasonable approach, the rotation was sometimes imperfect, particularly if budgetary concerns delayed repairs during a rotation. In a move to modernize our approach, we have shifted to a quantitative measure that looks beyond what we see on the surface and includes an examination of the soil underneath. This detail-oriented approach allows us to better predict, plan, and address pothole repair. Furthermore, we are negotiating with the Kentucky State Highway department to allow Covington to repair potholes on state owned streets which drove a large portion of the pothole complaints in the city. This is still in process, but we’re working to have the agreement finalized later this year.

Neighborhoods: Covington has a variety of economic or infrastructure-related projects throughout the city, but we know there are times when an individual neighborhood wants to enhance their own corner of the city. With this in mind, I advocated for the creation of a grant program that would allow dedicated funds to be allocated to each of our neighborhoods. These neighborhood grant funds can be used for beautification to help improve a given neighborhood area and help with localized citizen engagement. To date, we’ve had 12 applications for projects and provided more than $35,000 in funding. If your neighborhood group is interested in applying please reach out to Ken Smith at [email protected].

Fiscal Responsibility/Transparency: I continue to strongly advocate for priority-based city budgeting. Our city is growing and that requires us to reassess how funds are allocated within the city to best serve that growth. During my time on the commission, we have continued to publicize and make available how city funds are being spent but we can do better.  Transparent, priority-based budgeting helps highlight exactly how, where, and why prioritizations are made. This is critical as we grow larger, as it ensures we are vigilant with the city budget - funds must be consistently directed toward the goals our residents have elected us to achieve.

Although times are challenging and uncertainty seems to be around us, it is important to remember our strength as a community. I hope you find encouragement in the progress we’ve made and our plans for maintaining and growing our beautiful city.   

It is truly an honor to serve the people of this great city. Covington’s strengths come from its people, and I am missing the personal connection with each of you this year. Since door-to-door visits are discouraged for your safety right now, I truly appreciate this opportunity to connect and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in the virtual neighborhood conversations. If you have anything you want to share about our city, I hope you will let me know. And, if you have any positive stories to share about the city or city staff, please pass those along too. Email me any time at [email protected]. I look forward to the day when I can once again shake your hand and enjoy a great, in-person conversation! Until then, be safe and well, and do not hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns, or a story you’d like to share. 

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