Tuesday, October 24, 2000

City spending records show bar, eatery, golf outings

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — Members of Villa Hills City Council could only sit and watch last week as copies of credit card receipts and bills were projected on a wall in the packed council chambers.

        A $439 bar tab at The Oriental Wok. Trips to Hooters in Newport and Columbus. Hotel rooms. Dozens of meals at area restaurants.

        Jeff Harmon, a Fort Wright attorney hired by some city residents, placed the bills and checks — more than 800 altogether — on an overhead projector while making comments about alleged misspending of city money.

        “How can they possibly defend holding public business at Hooters?” Mr. Harmon said in an interview Monday.

        Council members were unprepared for the presentation but have since defended some of the spending. And some members believe the entire episode was orchestrated to divert attention from Mayor Steve Clark, who is being investigated by a Kenton County grand jury.

        After a complaint was filed, Kentucky State Auditor Ed Hatchett said his office would come to Villa Hills and look at the records, but he has not committed to an audit.

        “It was clearly an ambush,” Councilman Bob Kramer, the top vote-getter in the 1998 election, said of

        last week's meeting. “You can come after me all you want, but to pick on long-term employees is a cheap shot.”

        Mr. Clark was elected two years ago when he defeated Denny Stein. Much of the spending presented by Mr. Harmon took place while Mr. Stein served nine years as mayor.

        Mr. Stein was at the meeting. But like council members he has not seen all the records Mr. Harmon and his clients received through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

        “But I can tell you everything I ever spent when I was mayor was done properly,” Mr. Stein said. “I can explain it all.”

        On the Hooters charges, he did say before he left office he took some city employees there for lunch.

        “I thought after nine years of working with these people there was nothing wrong with doing that,” Mr. Stein said.

        “Some people think Hooters is nasty, but I don't think it's nasty,” he said.

        But there are several charges at Hooters. Mr. Stein said he could not account for all of them, but he speculated other city employees may have had some lunches or dinners there.

        Mr. Kramer said the golf outing was for city employees participating in a local government event. One of the large dinners was a retirement party for a former city clerk and there are also charges for a city Christmas party that included drinks at a bar.

        “There's no question that Denny Stein thought that people who worked hard and volunteered for the city deserved to be invited to a Christmas party,” Mr. Kramer said.

        “Those parties included alcohol. Some would say alcohol should not be included, but Denny did and he was the mayor,” he said.

        Mr. Kramer also took exception to a check Mr. Harmon produced that was signed and cashed by City Clerk Sue Kramer, who is Mr. Kramer's wife.

        “They were trying to infer something was wrong with that check, but she made that check out to herself to replenish the city's petty cash fund,” Mr. Kramer said.

        A grand jury is investigating Mr. Clark's role in a $25,025 check that was sent to a Florence concrete company for sidewalk repair. Council, however, did not approve the check. Under state law any expenditure of more than $10,000 must be put out to bid.

        The money was returned to the city with no work performed.

        Mr. Harmon has suggested that Mr. Clark became a target of some council members because “he called for accountability on the part of public officials ... and cut off the trips to Hooters.”

        “They are full of baloney,” Councilman Tim Sogar said of the residents who hired Mr. Harmon. “They are digging for everything. It's a smokescreen. I never went to Hooters. I did nothing wrong or underhanded in any way.”


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