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After Tense Argument, Erlanger Council Shoots Down Plan to Reduce Its Number from 12

It looks like, as of now, the City of Erlanger will maintain its unusually large council.

There are currently twelve elected members of council and one mayor, making it the largest elected body in Northern Kentucky. A proposal to reduce that number last year was shot down, but during the recently concluded campaign, several candidates endorsed a pending proposal to revisit a reduction plan.

An ordinance was presented recently to bring the number of council members to ten, but when a vote was called to approve the measure last week, Councilman Tyson Hermes, a former mayor, offered a floor amendment to make the cut even deeper.

Hermes suggested that for the 2022 election, voters should choose just six members of council.

He argued that bringing the number to ten was not meaningful enough a change. He said that council members would have to work harder to be elected.

Councilman Gary Meyer countered that that would be too drastic a change and City Attorney Jack Gatlin said the amendment would force another first reading.

Councilwoman Rebecca Reckers, who had proposed the ten-member council ordinance, said that she would be OK with nine members because it would be easier to break ties, but other than that, she favored ten.

Councilwoman Corine Pitts, who did not run for reelection, said that she did not want to reduce the council size at all. Pitts argued that she wanted a larger number of council members so that one council member could not recruit five others to run with them.

Councilwoman Patty Suedkamp also expressed opposition to Hermes's proposal.

"I am absolutely dead set against six," Suedkamp countered. "It causes turmoil and we don't need anymore turmoil!"

Councilwoman Renee Skidmore said that she wants to keep "diversity" with twelve members, saying if it's "not broke, don't fix it".

"When I look at this room, I don't see a lot of diversity," Hermes said in response. "In fact, I see almost none, except for male and female. I don't buy that diversity point.  When you say it's not broke, I would argue it is broke! When a husband and wife team can get voted into office, time after time after time, and have never shared any goals for the city and have no accomplishments to their name, it is broke. 

"When there are two families dominate thirty percent of the decisions we make for the city of council, and there is 7,500 families in the city, there's a problem."

Hermes was referencing the two sets of relatives, the Skidmores and the Cahills, who serve on the council.

"We are just well liked," said Renee Skidmore. Don Skidmore said the issue was getting old and that council needed to move on. He said that he was tired of being bashed.

Gary Meyer suggested putting the issue off till next year because four new councilmembers were coming in. 

Councilman Tom Cahill agreed with Meyer.

Rebecca Reckers rejected that outright, stating they are not going to put the issue off.

Corine Pitts accused Hermes of recruiting people to be "yes men" for him, which is why she said number needs to stay at 10 or 12.

"For the record, I recruited zero people in this election," said Hermes. "And you, ma'am, I know you tried to recruit Mr. (Randy) Blankenship and you also tried to recruit Mr. (Frank) Wichmann!"

Blankenship is a councilman who ran unsuccessfully or mayor in 2018 but was appointed to a council seat this year, and did not seek election this year. Wichmann is the former city attorney who ran for council this year but finished in last place, thirteenth out of thirteen.

Twelve members were elected.

"And you, on Facebook, endorsed five people in this election," Pitts said to Hermes. "And you, and the mayor (Jessica Fette) walked around and campaigned together for those five people. So you have an alternative reason why you want six."

Hermes said endorsing is a whole lot different from recruiting.

"Tyson, you're wrong," said Blandenship, who said he didn't intend to say anything until Hermes brought up his name. 

"No one attempted to recruit me to run in this election or any other, so get your facts straight! I was actually really on the fence about whether to support this or not until I heard Mr. Hermes speak. What he said tonight was frankly the biggest insult to the voters of Erlanger I have ever heard! He is basically saying the voters of Erlanger are too stupid to determine what twelve people are all about because we just won't vet them, he says. That is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard! People are fully capable. I trust the voters to vet them. And for him to criticize a husband and wife getting elected, when there's nothing in the statutes that says they can't, it's up to the voters or the people that continually elect them, that's their choice, that's fine. I understand that's not your choice so be it. But that's what everybody has a vote for, the people get the right to make the choice, not you!"

When the vote on the floor amendment came, only Hermes supported it.

Council was asked to vote to table the ordinance on changing the membership from twelve to ten until January 5, but that failed 8 to 3.

Mayor Jessica Fette called a vote on the ordinance as it was written, and the roll call vote failed, 7 to 4.

-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Erlanger city council (RCN ile)

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