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City responds to Latonia yard controversy; votes 4-1 to give WWII artillery cannons to Elsmere

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

COVINGTON – The city wants to make their position clear: They only wanted to talk to a Latonia woman whose yard had drawn complaints from neighbors because of its beach-themed decorations.

No one wanted to fight.

And no one wanted the situation to escalate any further than a warning, which is what the woman, 49-year-old Carman Deda Lake, was given after someone complained that her many decorations had become a nuisance in the neighborhood.

The city also wants to make it clear that at no point did they know the single mother of three was a veteran, or that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, which meant she may have had trouble picking up and removing some of the beach objects she said her family had gotten her to create a “happy place” while she battles her illness.

Carman Deda Lake’s home in Latonia, from her Facebook page.

In fact, city officials said that if they had been able to discuss this with her, they would have helped her to resolve the situation, a common practice when residents are having problems.

All of this was relayed Tuesday night in a conversation between the city’s Neighborhood Services Director, Ken Smith, and city commissioners, who were again meeting virtually for their regularly scheduled legislative meeting. Near the end of the evening’s agenda, Mayor Joseph U. Meyer asked Smith to address the situation and explain the city’s side of things.

Smith began by explaining the code enforcement process, which is complaint-driven, he said. Someone complains, and a member of code enforcement then goes to investigate. If they feel it’s warranted, they post a warning on the door of the property, before then mailing a copy of the warning to the property owner.

In this case, someone complained about Lake’s property — the front yard and the backyard. “We witnessed a large amount of items, decorations, chairs, a fire pit, various things in the front yard, and (the officer) chose to issue a general nuisance warning to the homeowner,” Smith said. “And I do want to say, this is not the first time we have had an incident at that property. There’s been some issues in the past, so we didn’t want things to get out of control, so we issued a general warning.”

Usually, he said, the issue gets resolved.

In this case, the owner called Code Enforcement, and an officer explained the complaints, including the effect on property values and aesthetics in the neighborhood, “and that was essentially the end of the conversation,” Smith said.

Then, this weekend, city officials began to see the news stories, both on the Internet and on television.

“We were a little caught off guard when we read the news stories,” Smith said. “The homeowner has some health complications … We work with residents all the time who have difficulties, whether it’s financial or medical or other types of hardships, to comply with our codes and try to resolve the problem. Unfortunately in this case, we knew none of that.”

All they knew, he said, was that a neighbor was unhappy with the condition of her property, “and we tried to resolve the issue in the least punitive manner possible.”

“Unfortunately, we just did not know the circumstances,” he continued. “It’s not an excuse. Having a medical condition doesn’t exempt you from following the law or the police codes. But we’re human beings, and we certainly would be more than willing to work with somebody in that situation.”

Smith said the city never intended to give a citation — they only wanted to have a discussion, in hopes of better understanding her position. For instance, Smith said he read that the decorations were never meant to be permanent. He said he has called Lake, but has yet to hear back.

“If it were not intended to be permanent, I’m quite sure we could work out something to where she could have the enjoyment of what she wants for some period of time,” he said. “We just don’t generally want properties with a lot of excess material in the front yard for years.”

Commission Votes 4-1 to Give Cannons to Elsmere

Commissioners approved an agreement to transfer two pieces of field artillery, (otherwise known as cannons) which are currently located at the Montague entrance of Devou Park, to the city of Elsmere.

The two field artillery pieces have sat at the entrance to the park for years as part of a war memorial, and while they sit on city-owned property, they were actually sponsored by the former Park Hills VFW post, which was located across the street. But when the VFW closed, the Elsmere VFW approached Covington and asked if they could relocate the artillery to their space.

In addition to the artillery pieces, there is also a small bronze plaque with the inscription: “Lest we forget, to honor the members of this post killed in the service of their country, 1941-1945.” The plaque will go to the Covington VFW.

Before the Board voted on the topic Tuesday night, Commissioner Denny Bowman wondered if the cannons might be better served by staying in Covington, possibly at the Linden Grove Cemetery on W. 13th St.

He questioned if Elsmere had the authority to take the cannons, and if Covington should investigate keeping them.

“I would like to have it stay,” he said. “I just think it’d be a great viewing piece for our citizens.”

Bowman noted how many veterans have been laid to rest in the cemetery, and how many other veterans come there to visit. He also said he did not appreciate how fast the process went, relaying that he was only able to think about this possibility since the topic came up last week.

But in the end, Ken Smith said he would recommend the cannons go to the VFW in Elsmere, and the Mayor agreed.

“It’s not a bad suggestion at all,” Meyer said of Commissioner Bowman’s idea, but he said he felt they were “already too far down the road” in talks with Elsmere to back out. He said it would be “somewhat problematic,” in that Elsmere has already prepared a site for the cannons, and already contacted a towing company for the relocation.

Bowman said he had “all the respect in the world” for the VFW, but said he felt the city was “losing a piece of history” and acted too fast.

The Board voted 4-1 to approve giving the cannons to Elsmere, with Bowman dissenting.

Promotions, Appointments and Resignations

• Margaret Volkering was promoted to Payroll Specialist
• Sandy Shoemaker was promoted to full-time Finance Technician
• Ross Patten was appointed to Assistant Director of Economic Development
• Ella Frye was appointed to the Renaissance Covington Board
• Joanne Rigney resigned from the Covington Police Department, effective Sept. 1, which prompted Susan Barnett of the Friends of Peaselburg group, to write in to the commission, stating that Rigney had been “an invaluable asset” to the city, and thanked her for her service.

Second Reading of Ordinances

The Commission heard second readings on three ordinances Tuesday night, and approved two of the three:

• Amend Chapter 94 repealing Urban Forestry subchapter
• Amend Chapter 32 creating Urban Forestry Board

A third ordinance, to create a Chapter 51 on Urban Forestry, was tabled pending the review of amendments.

Executive Order on Tax Bills

Mayor Meyer said he signed an executive order Tuesday delaying the tax bills from Oct. 15 to Nov. 2.

Because of the procedural delays in getting the information from the property evaluation administrator, the Department of Revenue and the local government, they will not be able to act on the tax rates until next month.

That will delay the processing of the tax bills, so they will be sent out by Oct. 1 and they will be due Nov. 2, he said.

Executive Session

Commissioners ended the meeting Tuesday by entering into an Executive Session “to discuss pending litigation,” Meyer said.

But the Commission did not plan to reconvene, and no further action was expected to be taken, he said.

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., Sept. 8, 2020. The meeting can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

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