Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Villa Hills mayor forces out city attorney

Investigations, infighting take first casualty

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — A long-simmering political and legal controversy in Villa Hills has claimed its first victim.

        At the request of Mayor Steve Clark, City Attorney Lawson Walker, the city's legal counsel for 20 years, has resigned.

        Mr. Clark was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

        Mr. Walker said he was told by the mayor that he wanted to make some changes after months of investigations, political infighting and legal wrangling in the Kenton County city.

        “I think the mayor wanted to proceed in the second half of his (four-year) term with his own team, that he wanted a clean slate after all that has happened in the city,” Mr. Walker said.

        “I'm happy to move forward, but I'm disappointed,” he said. “I've served the city a long time. It was one of my first clients. But I don't want to lay the blame on anyone. It's just an unfortunate situation.”

        Last month, a Kenton County grand jury refused to indict Mr. Clark on charges the mayor improperly mailed a $25,000 check to a concrete company for sidewalk work. The check was not cashed and was returned to the city. No work was per formed.

        Residents and some council members believed the mayor — who said the check was sent by mistake — broke state bidding laws, which require any project of more than $10,000 to be put out to bid. Council members said they were unaware the check had been sent.

        The Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney's Office and the Kentucky Attorney General's Office also investigated. But after months of questioning witnesses, the grand jury returned no charges.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Clark asked the Kentucky Auditor's Office to look into spending by former Mayor Denny Stein — re-elected to a council seat in November — and other city officials on parties, meals at restaurants and bar tabs.

        An audit could be released next week, said Harold Mc Kinney, spokesman for state Auditor Ed Hatchet.

        Mr. Walker contended Tuesday that were it for not all the investigations, “I would still probably be there.

        “But have I enjoyed being city attorney the past six or seven months? The answer to that is "No,'” he said.

        Council members said they are disappointed in Mr. Clark's move but not surprised.

        “I looked for some kind of shake-up,” said Councilman Mike Sadouskas, who has clashed with Mr. Clark frequently. “Lawson had a long-term view and perspective on the city, and that will be missed.

        “The mayor has every right to put his own team together that he can work with,” Mr. Sadouskas said. “I hope what he did was for the right reasons and not for retaliation or paybacks.”

        Mr. Clark may have been angry that Mr. Walker was too helpful in answering council members' questions about the legal issues surrounding the investigations into the check, according to Mr. Stein.

        Mr. Stein and others fear Mr. Clark will go on a purge, firing other city employees, including Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown and City Clerk Sue Kra mer, the wife of councilman Bob Kramer. Mr. Kramer has also battled with the mayor and questioned some of his actions.

        “I think this is absolutely terrible,” Mr. Stein said. “The mayor said he wants to get along with people now and put things behind him, and then he does this.

        “He is going after anyone he feels was against him,” he said. “Lawson didn't do anything out of the ordinary. He did his job. Now look what happens to him. It's not right.”

        Councilwoman Mary Koenig, a Clark supporter, said the mayor is not on a personal vendetta, but he is “a very strong man who makes his own decisions.”

        At tonight's City Council meeting she intends to question council members about thousands of dollars in legal bills owed and paid to Mr. Walker for work done during the investigations.

        “If you want to look at personal vendettas,” Mrs. Koenig said, “you need to start by looking at those legal bills.”

        Councilman Steve Kramer said Mr. Walker performed his job by answering questions members of council needed to have answered.

        “What happened to Lawson was a vendetta by Steve Clark and his supporters, including Mary Koenig, to get rid of people,” Mr. Kramer said. “I'm just saddened by the whole thing.”


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- Villa Hills mayor forces out city attorney
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