A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington commission ‘passes over’ Orchard Park development, legal services renewal

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

Melissa Zanella calls herself “pro-development.”

After all, she’s an architect, and she understands that progress means money for the city. But Zanella also lives on Lee Street, and as a Westside resident, she does not want progress to get in the way of her greenspace — like Orchard Park, where she gets her flowers, figs and eggs from the garden.

She also knows about the project that could develop several vacant properties in the area. In fact, she knows it well. She was part of a team that made a proposal to the city, one that she says would keep Orchard Park and its greenspace.

“Please vote no,” to the development, she told Commissioners at their regularly scheduled legislative meeting Tuesday night. “Thank you.”

Several other residents — young and old — came out to speak Tuesday night on the same topic, each sharing stories about why they love the park and its garden.

The commission was prepared to consider an order to select the Orleans Development and the Center for great Neighborhoods as developers for the property.

On MGrch 23, the city issued an RFP looking for a developer for 11 vacant city-owned parcels and one single family structure in the Westside neighborhood. They received five responses from developers, and a selection committee made up of economic development and neighborhood services staff ranked the submissions.

“The committee is unanimously recommending that Orleans development and The Center for Great Neighborhoods be selected,” city documents say. They would pay $150,000.

Tuesday night, Mayor Joseph U. Meyer first responded to Zanella, noting how the project she was a part of was not considered — at their request. He said their representatives noted it could be considered at a later date, but not now. Then he thanked the residents.

“We appreciate your passion and your interest,” he said. “Thank you for your comments.”

So, the city moved on. And before making a decision Tuesday night, they talked with their interim city manager, Ken Smith, who again described the process — making sure to note he has never done business with Orleans before.

“I don’t particularly like being accused of favoritism,” Smith said. Based on discussion with residents and the selection committee, Smith described how Orleans was actually a compromise, noting how there was even another proposal that came in with a better financial offer.

But Smith said the committee decided the project would be worse for the neighborhood and area.

In the end, residents can breathe easier — for the time being. There still seemed to be too many questions about the project, and commission decided to “pass over” the issue for now, meaning they can bring it up again at a later date, though no date was specified.

City Solicitor Bartlett resigns

It’s another resignation — but it’s not what you think, city officials say.

Yes, there have been a few city workers who have resigned recently, and you can add City Solicitor Michael Bartlett’s name to that list.

But Bartlett says his decision had nothing to do with anything else other than a great opportunity coming his way.

“I am proud of the work I have accomplished and I am confident my accomplishments should be credited to the team that surrounds me, both in the legal department and within the organization,” Bartlett wrote in his resignation letter. “The city is blessed with many brilliant minds and hardworking attitudes. With the right leadership and mentality, Covington’s potential is limitless. My next mission is an opportunity that I cannot turn down. It is something that is potentially life changing for my family.”

Bartlett did not expand Tuesday night on what he would be doing. “Thank you all for allowing me to join you all on this journey,” he said.

Commissioner Shannon Smith said she’s learned a lot from Bartlett, and Mayor Meyer wished him luck.

“Best of luck in the private sector enterprise you are about to take,” he said.

Legal services renewal passed over

In an awkward exchange, Commissioners were set to vote against the renewing of a professional services agreement with Gatlin Voelker, PLLC, to assist in providing general legal services to the city.

“The city’s Legal Department staff recommends continuing the existing relationship with Gatlin Voelker, PLLC, and one of its principal partners, Brandon N. Voelker, to enhance the city’s staffing profile and to provide general legal services to the city, under the direction of the city solicitor,” city documents say.

The agreement called for about 75 hours of legal services per month, including written and oral advice, and possible representation, for a yearly retainer of $95,000, paid in monthly installments of $7,916.67.

In what seemed to be a bit of a surprise, Commissioners Smith, Tim Downing and Ron Washington voted against the renewal, causing Mayor Meyer to hesitate for a moment before deciding what to do.

“This is so important to the operation of city government,” Mayor Meyer said, noting it would put the city manager — or in this case, the interim city manager — at an “extreme disadvantage” if it were voted down.

So instead, the commission again chose to “pass over” the issue, or bring it up again at a later date, though again, no date was specified.

Messages to the commissioners Tuesday night to ask why they were against the renewal went unanswered.

Resignations and promotions

Several resignations and promotions were approved Tuesday night, including: the resignation of Assistant City Manager Bruce Applegate;

In the police department: the resignations of Pat Swift, Jim West, Jim Isaacs, Jess Hamblin, Scott Dames and Tony Hill; and the promotions of: Justin Wietholter, Matt Winship, Josh Bornhorn, Josh Haggard, Jason Hartzler and Justin Meyer;

In the fire department: the resignations of Tara Black, David Dorr, Joseph Finan, Micah Foster, David Geiger, Michael Harris, John Hofstetter and Michael Lee; and the promotions of Gary Rucker, Deye, Averbeck, Masson, Wyatt, Gray-Schaefer, Vance, Grady, Bolyard, Eggemeier, Johnson, Vogelpohl, Oberjohann, Meyer, Ausdenmore and Bumpus.

Williams absent

Commissioner Michelle Williams was absent Tuesday night.

Executive session

At the end of a marathon meeting, Mayor Meyer announced the commissioners would go into an executive session “to discuss collective bargaining issues.”

Meyer said no further business would be conducted on the floor after the session.

Next meeting

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., July 27, at the City Building at 20 W. Pike St. in Covington. The meetings 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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