Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Political intrigue roils Villa Hills

Firings remain subject of debate

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ed Niewahner carries the uniform of fired Police Chief Michael Brown into City Hall Monday.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        VILLA HILLS — Fighting back tears and holding in emotions, the sisters of fired Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown turned over the uniform that their brother had hoped to be buried in one day.

        Mayor Steve Clark, who fired Mr. Brown and City Clerk Sue Kramer on Dec. 28, said over the weekend that if the chief's uniform, badge and other city-issued property were not turned in by Monday morning, Mr. Brown would face criminal charges.

        So with the help of some of Mr. Brown's supporters, his sisters, Kim Gemmer of Crittenden and Debbie Bowman of Owen County, hauled several boxes of Mr. Brown's uniforms and other items into the city's police department Monday, passing as they did a foyer wall adorned with awards and citations bearing the chief's name.

        “It's been very upsetting to him. He has good days and bad days ... and today has been hard for him,” Mrs. Gemmer said of her brother, who has been a police officer for nearly 30 years. “This just isn't right.”

  Wednesday's Villa Hills City Council meeting, which is expected to draw a large crowd, has been moved to the Crescent Springs City Building, 739 Buttermilk Pike.
  The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Among the items residents hope to discuss is the recent firing of Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown and City Clerk Sue Kramer by Mayor Steve Clark.
  A citizens group supporting the former employees will hold a 6:30 p.m. press conference at the Villa Hills Civic Club Lodge, 729 Rogers Road
        Monday's ordeal was just another of the political and personal twists that have gripped this city of about 8,000 people over the past year.

        The controversies have included political infighting, formal investigations, allegations of criminal charges and a general disharmony in a city once recognized by Cincinnati magazine as one of the most livable cities in Greater Cincinnati.

        After Mr. Brown's sisters, with help from Mr. Brown's supporters, carried the boxes into the station they came out with plaques, football trophies and other items that were still in Mr. Brown's office.

        They were loaded into the back of Mrs. Gemmer's red pickup truck and will be returned to her brother, she said.

        “This is hard,” Mrs. Bowman said. “We're just trying to help our brother at a time when he needs us. He didn't want to have to do this today.”

        Mr. Clark, who won his office from longtime Mayor Denny Stein by 85 votes in 1998, has not said why he fired Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer other than “performance,” but they were dismissed the day a state audit critical of city spending was released.

        The Kentucky state audit, released Dec. 28, questioned more than $44,000 in city spending by Mr. Stein, council members and city officials, including money that paid for holiday parties, bar bills, travel and restaurant meals.

        Mr. Brown was listed throughout the audit for using a city-issued credit card to pay for hotel rooms, lunches and dinners. Mr. Clark has not specifically said Mr. Brown's firing was related to the audit though he did say the firings were tied to the oversight of city funds.

        But Mr. Brown's supporters don't believe the mayor.

        “That's a load of bull,” said Councilman Mike Sadouskas, who has opposed the mayor's actions.

        “There was never any question about what Corky was spending the money on,” he said. “He was at training sessions and conferences out of town. Some of the documentation wasn't available because those records go back a few years, but there was never — and I repeat never — any concern that money was being misproperly spent.”

        Mr. Brown has not commented publicly on the firing but has hired an attorney to investigate whether he can possibly bring a lawsuit and win back his job. Mrs. Kramer has not decided whether she will pursue legal action against the city.

        Neither is working now. Mr. Brown has been replaced by interim Chief Larry Hall, who was a specialist on the police force. Deputy Clerk Mary Ann Breetz has taken over Mrs. Kramer's job.

        Mr. Sadouskas and other supporters of Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer think the firings were motivated by revenge.

        Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer — the wife of Councilman Bob Kramer, who has also clashed with the mayor — apparently cooperated with investigators looking into allegations made last year that Mr. Clark broke state bidding laws.

        The Attorney General's Office, the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney and a Kenton County grand jury investigated the allegations — which involved a $25,025 check sent to a concrete company for sidewalk repair — but no formal charges were ever filed, and Mr. Clark was never indicted.

        “They did their jobs, they talked to investigators, and they ended up getting fired,” said longtime Villa Hills resident Tom Reed. “That's retaliation.”

        Mr. Clark was not at the city building when Mr. Brown's sisters arrived, but in the parking lot were about a dozen residents and a group of reporters.

        The residents are part of a group of citizens formed to support Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer and fight for their reinstatement.

        “We had a couple hundred people out going door to door Sunday telling the residents what is going on,” said Ed Niewahner, one of the group's organizers.

        The group has collected $408 to buy Mr. Brown's uniform, and formally made that offer in a letter to the mayor, who did not respond.

        “Our concerns are for the welfare and safety of the city, and the injustice that has been done to these two people,” Mr. Niewahner said.

        A majority of council members voted Jan. 6 to hire Covington lawyer Phil Taliaferro to investigate the firings. Mr. Taliaferro and his firm have represented two Northern Kentucky cities — Dayton and Dry Ridge — that have impeached mayors.

        But Mr. Clark said he is vetoing the move because funds were not appropriated when council voted to hire Mr. Taliaferro.

        At Wednesday night's scheduled council meeting, the firings, the hiring of Mr. Taliaferro, the city's budget and other contentious items are expected to be discussed and debated.

        “What has happened is ludicrous,” said Shelly Espich, a Villa Hills resident who supports Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer. “To ruin the reputations of two people who have done outstanding jobs is just wrong.”

Villa Hills chronology
Residents join fight for fired chief, clerk

Bob Braun was trouper to the end
Braun was friend to colleagues
Braun services Thursday
Corpse photos 'shock art'
Local missionaries survive El Salvador quake
- Political intrigue roils Villa Hills
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Housing proposal appears dead
Kentucky Digest
Local Digest
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Newport city commission opposes hotel expansion
Panera Bread eyes Crestview Hills location
State will cover road work - this time
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Book covers Ohio history by the letters
Crash kills Owenton teen
Fire hits old stone building
Sexual predator label disputed