Sunday, December 31, 2000

Towns' chiefs, politicians butt heads

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Including last week's firing of Villa Hills' police chief, at least four Northern Kentucky cities have concluded battles among mayors, other elected officials and police chiefs.

        So far the tally is tied: two police chiefs have lost their jobs; twice city officials - one mayor and a majority of a city council - have been removed from office.

        “This is bad for a community, because it has the potential to tear a community apart,” says Fort Wright attorney Steve Wolnitzek. “You have people taking sides, and often they don't know all the issues. You end up with neighbor pitting themselves against neighbor.”

        Mr. Wolnitzek represents Villa Hills Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown, who was fired last week by the city's mayor.

        If cities don't back up their law enforcement officials against elected leaders who break the law, the cities won't attract quality police in the future, said Covington attorney Phil Taliaferro, who more than a week ago represented Dayton City Council - and indirectly its police chief - in the successful impeachment of Dayton's mayor.

        “The police chiefs in all those towns are all decent, law-abiding men,” he said. “They (police chiefs) believe they have a sworn duty to the citizens they serve to enforce the law and treat everyone fairly. They refuse to look the other way when improprieties are being committed. These are the kind of men who would take a bullet for the citizens they serve.”


        In Dayton, it looked like the chief might have had to.

        Earlier in the year City Council voted to investigate Mayor Bobby Crittendon after allegations surfaced that he had tried to pressure Police Chief Greg Aylor to promote the mayor's son-in-law, a police officer. The nepo tism allegation eventually led to other investigations, and 25 articles of impeachment resulted.

        Among other things, the articles allege Mr. Crittendon ordered parking tickets voided at least seven times, prohibited a Dayton police officer from issuing speeding tickets to tenants of property the mayor owned, interfered in a criminal investigation involving a friend's son, and used city equipment for personal use.

        Mr. Crittendon did not dispute the 25 articles but said his motives for his actions were legitimate and legal. Chief Aylor would not comment for this story.

        At the impeachment hearing, the city's public works director testified that Mr. Crittendon often said “he was a mayor of a fourth-class city with almost the power of a dictator.”


        In Ludlow, the bad blood was long-standing.

        For months council members clashed with the mayor, with each other and with the police chief over various issues.

        Twice a council member objected to tickets he received for illegally parking his flatbed truck and wrecker. When that didn't work, City Council rewrote parking regulations, effectively preventing police from ticketing his trucks and others like them.

        Police Chief Tom Collins also fought with City Council over two federal grants he secured for the city but that council was too slow to accept.

        He also assisted in a state investigation of a charitable bingo operation at the fire department. And he was indirectly involved with the resignation of a longtime city administrator.

        Council members began shopping around for other police service. But the public dissension inspired numerous council candidates, and voters in November declined to re-elect a majority of council.

        Chief Collins could not be reached for comment.


        Fast-growing Independence, in southern Kenton County, saw its leadership divide over some misapplied carpet tacks.

        City Councilman Steve Feldhaus last year had strips of carpet tacks installed on the roof a city park building. He said it was to discourage birds from roosting there, but others said they were to discourage juveniles from hanging onto the gutters or to punish them if they did.

        Former Police Chief Ed Porter investigated and sought misdemeanor charges of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief against Mr. Feldhaus.

        He also alleged that Mayor Tom Kriege tried to influence the criminal investigation. No charges were filed against the mayor.

        Mr. Feldhaus eventually agreed to a plea bargain that expunged his charges in exchange for 40 hours of community service.

        Still standing, the Mayor Kriege fired Chief Porter in April. Mr. Porter has since sued. Though he declined to comment for this story, he has said he was fired for “blowing the whistle”.

Villa Hills

        Observers of Villa Hills politics say its mayor also survived to fight again.

        Earlier this year, Villa Hills' city council asked for an investigation into a $25,000 check the mayor wrote that was sent to a concrete contractor for sidewalk work that had not been put to bid, a violation of state law.

        Mayor Steve Clark said the check was a mistake, but the matter was investigated by Kenton County State Attorney and the state Attorney General's offices, assisted by ex-Chief Brown.

        Last month, a Kenton County grand jury declined to indict Mr. Clark.

        And last week, after a state audit claimed tens of thousands of tax dollars were misspent by various officials, Mayor Clark fired Mr. Brown and the city clerk.

        He refused to provide a reason for the firings, although announced them while discussing the audit.

        Mr. Brown, who has said he will challenge the firing, did not return calls for comment.

        Steve Devoto, a Villa Hills resident who has followed the controversy, said police chiefs like Mr. Brown are in tough situations.

        “How can you investigate the man who is in charge of hiring and firing?” he asked.

        “According to statute, (the mayor) has the power to hire and fire. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.”

        Mr. Devoto, who runs Northern Kentucky Live, a nonprofit cable access producer, said the mayor chose the wrong way.

        Mr. Wolnitzek, the attorney representing Mr. Brown, agreed, saying some politicians and city leaders don't seem to mind such conflicts anymore.

        “People have forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “It used to be that I could have my opinion and you your opinion and we could still shake hands when we met on the street.”


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