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Chaos: Memos Detail Fractured Government, Chief Declines Administrator Job

"The emails are condescending, inflammatory, and derogatory in tone in the opinion of Chief Knuaf, and I agree with him."

A series of emails, detailed in an internal memo at the City of Taylor Mill, bring to light the turmoil and squabbling in the city's government that ultimately led to longtime city administrator Jill Bailey jumping ship and taking the same job at the City of Fort Wright.

The River City News obtained a copy of the memo through an open records request after the issue was raised during a heated city commission meeting last week.

During the meeting last Wednesday, Commissioner Sarah Frietch brought up the March 7 memo that she claimed "attempted to put me in a very poor light." The memo included concerns by Bailey and responses by Frietch.

"The elephant in the room is that (which) deals with you and I," Police Chief Steve Knauf broke in. "If that (memo) comes out, I stand by it 110 percent. You chose to go a different route. I stand behind that memo 110 percent!"

"And I stand behind that memo also," said Bailey, who was attending her last meeting in Taylor Mill. "I issued that memorandum. I will leave copies of it with attachments for anyone to view. There was not an intention or an attempt to make you look bad."

"It deals with the toxic work environment that you created," Knauf said to Frietch. "And that's why (Bailey) is leaving! I'll stake my reputation on it!"

"That's fine, but it's not true, I was blindsided," Frietch responded.

"Absolutely not. People, get the memo. I'll answer your questions," Knauf said before turning back to Frietch. "It's a false narrative, you're creating a false narrative! I'll stake my 30-year reputation as police chief on it, and my reputation and integrity are everything in my job. I didn't want to fight this battle in a public forum but that's what you do. You have blindsided me so many times."

Knuaf was set to serve as interim city administrator upon Bailey's departure in addition to his role as police chief, but that issue became murkier last week.

"You shouId be the chief of police," Knauf said to Frietch. "I don't know why you continue to pay such a handsome salary. You have tried to micromanage me."

Frietch denied trying to micromanage him.

Commissioner Phil Peace said, "Let's try to put a cap on it," before explaining how residents could obtain the memos. When Knuaf attempted to break in with criticism of Frietch's decision to discuss the issue publicly, Peace continued. Knauf then told Peace that the commissioner had a habit of walking over people and that if he was finished, the police chief would like to continue.

"You brought this to a public forum, not me," Knauf said to Frietch. "I have tried to work with you for 15 months since you came on board. You have created a toxic and hostile work environment for myself and other people, with the in-battling, and  infighting you cause and the drama you exude with your partner over here (Peace). (Bailey) is leaving for one reason - toxic work environment!"

"Absolutely not," said Frietch. "Jill is leaving because she feels like she can better herself - "

"Toxic work environment," Knauf shot back. "You're wrong. That's a false narrative."

"There's no way it's toxic," Frietch replied. "As a matter of fact late last summer you told me that I had to go through Jill to get information. Now, (City Attorney) Frank Wichmann just cleared up at the April 25 meeting that commissioners can ask for whatever information they want to ask of any department head. That was not the case."

"You're still trying to be a supervisor of the police department," Commissioner Mark Kreimborg responded to Frietch.  

Frietch denied it, saying that Bailey's memo fabricated a situation.

"You are calling me a liar," Bailey told Frietch. "And that is not right. That email was written based on accurate facts and emails that were provided to me in a situation that I had with a department head. I presented it to the entire city commission and for the record I want to make known that I did not respond to the Commissioner Frietch's response to my original memo, because it was absolutely insulting, and served no purpose and probably needed an attorney to do so."

In the memo, Bailey attempted to explain her concern about emails from Frietch related to a proposed meeting between the commissioner, Bailey, Knauf, and Wichmann. Frietch wanted further explanation about the police department's budget, as prepared for the next fiscal year by Knauf. Frietch reiterated her position as commission liaison to the police department.

Knauf expressed puzzlement over the request in the memo because he had never had such a request before. The police chief believed that his role is to submit a budget to the city administrator by Bailey's deadline. 

Bailey, in her memo to commissioners about the emails from Frietch, also was critical of Frietch for copying administrative assistant Kristy Webb. "And the manner in which both myself and Chief Knauf were addressed by Commissioner Frietch in front of subordinate staff is inappropriate, embarrassing to us both, and unprofessional," Bailey wrote. 

Frietch wrote back that the emails were copied to Webb because the first one had been. "(The emails) were consecutive, throughout, and I feel, at times, show disregard for respect and requests for me as a City Commissioner," she wrote. 

The email from Frietch suggesting the presence of both Knauf and Bailey at Frank Wichmann's office at a specific day and time caused particular concern. When Bailey and Knauf inquired what the meeting was about, Frietch's email told Bailey, "I'm pretty sure you know what it is about", and then said if she needed a title, it would be "city business". Knauf wrote back that he had never been summoned to the city attorney's office before, and that he would need to seek legal counsel, since it looked to him like there would be disciplinary action.

Finally Frietch emailed Knauf, telling him it was a meeting to clear up some issues, and that Wichmann would act as a "neutral ear". But both Bailey and Knauf thought their jobs were on the line.

At the commission meeting, Knauf was so upset about the situation, that he left the room, and when he came back, he wrote a note and passed it to Bailey. Mayor Daniel Bell read the note, and said Knauf decided he could not accept the extra duties of city administrator because he doesn't trust two members of the city commission.   

Commissioners had just passed an emergency ordinance assigning those duties to Knauf and recommending his salary be temporarily raised until a permanent city administrator can be hired. With Knauf's subsequent refusal to accept the extra duties, commissioners had to decide what they were going to do to fill the duties after Bailey's departure and before a new person is hired.

Mayor Bell said that he could probably do the job in the interim with the help of city staff members Gena Forsyth and Angie Wright, although he warned people he could not do a tenth of what Jill Bailey does.

"I can provide some kind of interim leadership," he said. "I'll do the best I can."

Commissioner Frietch suggested that Gena Forsyth could do the job, but Commissioner Kreimborg said not with her own job, and the commission agreed. Then Frietch suggested that maybe the Northern Kentucky Area Development District would have a person it could lend to the city to do the job, but the commission didn't like that suggestion either.  

In the end they all voted to instruct Attorney Wichmann to create an ordinance to allow the mayor to take over the duties of the city administrator until the city hired a permanent one.

The commission had already voted to rescind the ordinance about the proposed timeline for the administrator search, and then voted to allow the NKADD conduct the search, and have all the resumes to the city commission by July 11 so that interviews can begin.

Commissioner Kreimborg added that he hoped the city gets some good candidates because he didn't know who would want to come into this toxic environment.

Later, in department reports, when it came to the police report, Commissioner Frietch read off some statistics, and then told the chief to tell the rest of the report. Knauf shook his head and said he couldn't give the report.

Then he asked the commission formally to please change the liaison to his department. Stunned, Mayor Bell said he supposed he could suggest that Kreimborg could take over the police liaison, and Frietch could take the Parks department, whose contact would be Gena Forsyth.

Commissioner Dan Murray agreed to the change saying that she could change with him and be liaison to the fire department, but an uproar from the department head table convinced Mayor Bell to go with the original change, and he instructed Wichmann to rescind the original ordinance setting the liaisons.

There will be a special meeting on Tuesday, May 15, at 6 p.m. to decide on the changes in the liaisons.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael Monks