A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington mayor race, Part II: Joseph (Joe) Meyer on ‘Why I should be elected Covington’s next mayor’

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As part of the NKyTribune’s pre-election coverage, we have offered this space to the two candidates for mayor of Covington. Both candidates were invited to speak directly to voters in their own words. Today, challenger Joseph (Joe) Meyer; yesterday, incumbent Sherry Carran. Remember that TODAY is your last chance to register to vote. Click here to register online.

Joseph Meyer:

Joe has a passion for public service, and is a lifelong advocate for the City of Covington. He served the legislative and executive branches of the government for more than 30 years.

Joe represented Covington in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1982 until 1996. After leaving the Senate, Joe served as a senior policy advisor to Governor Steve Beshear and State Auditor Crit Luallen. In 2009 Joe was appointed Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet where he served until his retirement in 2013.

Joseph (Joe) Meyer

Joseph (Joe) Meyer

Joe has been instrumental in much of Covington’s progress and has been a strong advocate for the city during his public life. He played a key role in bringing in bringing Covington’s largest employer to the city, helped establish the Mainstrasse Village Association, and was a key leader in the processes that brought the Northern Kentucky Convention Center to Covington.

Joe Meyer is a 4th generation Covingtonian. He has been married to his wife, Dale, since 1974. They have four grown children who also reside in Covington.

Intro:   Why I should be Covington’s Mayor

In short: Experience and Leadership.

I bring valuable experience and knowledge to Covington and respect for the people who live in the city. Throughout my career I have managed thousands of employees and a $3 billion budget. I bring a deep understanding of the political process at the state and federal level, a record of success in solving tough public policy issues, and success in bringing in major investments to our city such as Fidelity and the Convention Center. I understand collaboration, partnership, and leadership because I’ve lived it. I know success in Covington is never the result of the efforts of a single person, but a team, working together.

Covington is at a pivotal point. This is a great time to choose to live and work in Covington, but our best days are still to come. It will require experience and steady vision from a Mayor ready to usher in the next generation. With the right leadership we can build not just for today, but to guarantee that Covington is a thriving, healthy city for years to come.

Q:   What are your top three goals as mayor?

1. Economic Development: Covington must grow the number of jobs in the city. Encourage investment in homes and business by improving the regulatory environment; develop comprehensive plans for housing, social services and code enforcement.

2. Government Reform and a major change in attitude at City Hall: Adopt fair, open, and consistent rules that apply to everyone in the city; Welcome public participation and embrace transparency. Ease communication with the City by an accessible advocate for residents and businesses within City Hall.

3. Reliable and efficient public services: Improve delivery of basic services like trash collection; Reverse staff reductions in public safety agencies and restore full services in South Covington; Reduce the burden on public safety agencies by improving planning for social services and housing.

Q:   What can the mayor and commission do to improve Covington schools? Is there a role for the city here?

A:   Covington needs good schools if it is to prosper. I believe Covington has good schools but they face burdens greater than any other school district in Northern Kentucky, and indeed the state. We should not expect our schools alone to be responsible for the education of the children of Covington.

The city government needs to be a full partner with the school district and parents to support education. There are three initiatives I hope the city will undertake when I become mayor. These initiatives support the school system but do not usurp its responsibilities. First, establish a mayor’s office of early childhood to work with the day care programs and preschools in the city to increase the percentage of students who are “school ready” upon entering kindergarten.

Second, children engaged in extracurricular activities do better in school. I will encourage the creation of a broad commission comprised of a number of community partners with the single goal of getting every child in Covington engaged in an extracurricular activity. And third, I will ask the Workforce community to help develop and present a detailed
extracurricular programs on the economic opportunities, earnings potential, education requirements and so on, of different economic sectors in Northern Kentucky, starting in Middle School and running through high school, so the children, their parents, and the faculty can learn more about the post education opportunities available locally, and perhaps inspire the students to become more career oriented and thus more motivated to perform at higher academic levels.

Q:   As mayor, what are your plans to address the heroin epidemic?

A: Covington is too small and doesn’t have the resources to address the heroin epidemic on its own. It must be a part of the solution and work with other local and regional entities to develop solutions. The solutions must be comprehensive: law enforcement by itself is insufficient. The city must be aware of and respond to the human factor by understanding and supporting the opportunities for expanded treatment facilities and programs in our region.

An asset I bring to the office is good knowledge of the state and federal political systems and many of the key people. I will be a strong and effective advocate.

Q:   What do you hope will be your legacy as Covington’s mayor?

I want Covington to have a city government people want to work with, reliable and trusted to do the right thing, where the city’s word is respected. Transparent, clear rules; an eased regulatory burden; and strong direction from the commission.

Covington City Government needs to provide a level playing field where people are given a fair shot, and where the procurement processes are open. I want a governmental environment which liberates and empowers the creative talents of the people who live here, work here, and want to invest here.
Covington needs to be a city of opportunity for everyone, where individuals build a better future for themselves. A city where respect, teamwork and empowerment are words that describe the relationships with city employees.
These are the values I want Covington to represent, and the legacy I hope to leave as Covington’s next Mayor.

Q: In what specific ways would you work with regional and state officials to improve Covington?

A: Collaboration is an essential element of governance in Northern Kentucky. No single government has the jurisdiction or resources to work on problems; instead functions are divided among special district governments, state governmental entities, and a variety of non-profit enterprises. Public funding has been decreasing even as private philanthropy has been growing.

When there are issues confronting the citizens of Covington it is important to identify the range of other entities that have some level of responsibility for addressing those issues and then engage them in promoting solutions.

Q:   How do you plan to spur development in the city and create more jobs?

A: Covington’s economic development approach has been so controlling as to throttle potential development. The city’s focus has been limited to attracting new development, primarily residential, and as a result has lost many jobs and employers, large and small. St Elizabeth Health Care, for example, moved hundreds of existing jobs out of Covington, and GreenSky moved to Crestview Hills to expand. More needs to be done to support the success and expansion of Covington’s existing businesses.

The use of incentives to attract new business needs to be revisited and reorganized. The relationship with Southbank needs to be strengthened. The regulatory environment needs to be relaxed. The focus on residential redevelopment needs to be shifted from the large apartment complex investments to greater support for the individual and small investor who actually create the environment to support the larger investments.

Developers regularly complain the city government is too hard to work with; they don’t know what the rules are; they don’t want to get entangled in Byzantine politics. They would like to work in Covington. The city government must become more open, more transparent and more supportive of those who wish to invest in our community.

Q: Question of choice: What’s your reaction to the announced closing of the IRS Center and the loss of 1800 jobs?

A. The announcement that the IRS would be closing down its oldest location and cutting 1800 jobs is devastating for Covington. Those who are suggesting these jobs will be replaced within a few years are engaged in political spin. The procedures for declaring a federal property surplus are tedious. Once vacated, the property is then declared surplus, then it is offered first to every federal agency. If a different federal agency wants the property they get it and the land does not become available for redevelopment. Generally it takes three to five years for a property to move from surplus to being available to the private sector.

It will take 10 to 15 to 20 years to get new development on the IRS site.
There’s no guarantees Covington will control the site.

Once the site is ready there’s no guarantee development will occur. The Ovation project in Newport, for example, has been ready to go for years, and still dirt hasn’t been turned.

Someday we will look back and applaud the opportunity created, but the loss of the IRS jobs, and the contracting jobs, and their economic activity, will create serious hardship for a long time for Covington.

Q: Second question of choice: What are other factors Covington needs to address to prepare for a better future?

A: Covington’s “ big picture” issues need to be addressed: housing policy, particularly the concentration of subsidized housing, the concentration of social services and homelessness, the future of the Brent Spence Bridge corridor, along with education, are issues fundamental to the city’s future.

The city commission should deal with these issues and chart a course for the future.

I envision a process that would engage in determinations of fact, reviews of alternative service options, and public participation to formulate recommendations for consideration by the Commission. Many of these issues have been with the city for a long time; they will continue to be with the city for a long time. The fundamental assumptions and approaches have been underway for as many as 40 or more years and need to be revisited to lay a proper foundation for Covington’s next 200 years.

Conclusion 
 
This election offers the people of Covington a clear choice. Mayor Carran is running on a “stay the course” platform. I am running on a “Change” platform.

The overall management of basic city services – waste collection, parking in Main Strasse, parking in the central business district, fire and ambulance service in south Covington, economic development and housing in Latonia, code enforcement – doesn’t meet the needs and expectations of the people who live here.

The relationship between the city government and its employees, particularly police and firemen, but also the non-uniformed workers and the city hall staff, could use major improvement. There’s a reason the turnover in city hall is so high.

The city incurred 50 or 60 millions of dollars in debt the past few years. In FY 2015 debt service was 13% of the GF. The state government rule of thumb is that no more than 6% of the General Fund should be spent on debt service. So much obligated to debt service means less available for services. Covington may have passed the tipping point on debt.

The city has raised property taxes, insurance taxes, and fees several times while continuing to cut services.

Overall the city is unorganized and lacks discipline in its approach to business. City Commissioners complain they don’t know how to get items added to the agenda. Commissioners have been marginalized and intentionally cut out of the decision making process. This is unacceptable.

Covington needs change. The city government should serve the entire city and the people who live here. Under my leadership as mayor the city will address these concerns to build a foundation for a better future.

Yesterday: Sherry Carran

You may also want to read this NKyTribune story: A round-up of all Kenton County races on the November 8 ballot and a sample ballot.

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