Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Fired police chief to get uniform

Villa Hills might seek judge's ruling on firing

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — Fired Chief Michael “Corky” Brown will get back his uniform and badge today. But a court may be asked whether he can return to the job he held for 16 years.

        During another long, loud and crowded Villa Hills City Council meeting Monday night, council voted to sell Mr. Brown his uniform and badge for $1.

        Council will decide at its February meeting if it will ask a Kenton Circuit Court judge to determine whether Mayor Steve Clark acted properly when he dismissed Mr. Brown and City Clerk Sue Kramer last month.

        The suggestion to seek a ruling from an outside party came from Covington lawyer Phil Taliaferro, who has been hired by a majority of council to investigate the firings.

        Seeking a declaratory judgment in Kenton Circuit Court might also help lessen the city's exposure to any lawsuits Mr. Brown — who has retained an attorney — or Mrs. Kramer might file against the city.

        “Get a court ruling,” said Mr. Taliaferro, “and it seems to me it would prevent you, as a city, from being exposed to so much risk.”

        Mr. Clark has maintained that under state law he has the power as mayor to fire city employees. The court would be asked to determine, among other things, whether the mayor violated a city ordinance that states the chief should have been granted a hearing before his firing.

        “I hope council really, really seriously thinks about getting a judge or mediator to settle this,” said resident Carol Grape, 44, who lives on Amsterdam Road. “I think that's a very good idea.”

        Councilwoman Julie Schuler said she does not think the city ordinance is valid.

        Mrs. Schuler said she recently spoke to an attorney with the Kentucky League of Cities who said the ordinance “was not worth the paper it was written on” because a city ordinance can not supersede state law.

        Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer were fired Dec. 28 by Mr. Clark for reasons he has not divulged.

        A citizens group and members of Mr. Brown's family have been raising money to buy the uniform and badge, which the former chief has said he wants to be buried in.

        After the firings, Mr. Clark demanded that Mr. Brown return the uniform and badge to the city. But he later said he had no problem with the items being returned to the chief as long as the badge was altered to indicate Mr. Brown no longer worked for the city.

        Councilmen Bob Kramer, the husband of Mrs. Kramer, made the motion that the uniform and badge be sold to Mr. Brown for the nominal fee of $1.

        “And here's the dollar,” Mr. Kramer said as he took a dollar bill from his wallet.

        Ed Niewahner, treasurer of the citizens group supporting Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer, said he will take care of having the badge altered.

        “Returning these items to Corky is important, and it's the right thing to do,” Mr. Niewahner.

        More than 200 people turned out for Monday's three-hour meeting, which was preceded by a 30-minute rally by the citizens group. Because of the large crowd,

        the meeting was moved from the city building to the cafeteria at River Ridge Elementary School in Villa Hills.

        Supporters of Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer wore T-shirts with the faces of the two fired employees printed on the front and back. Pictures of both were also placed at several of the tables in the cafeteria.

        And though their numbers were much smaller, there was also a visible sign of support for Mr. Clark, including residents holding up signs lambasting council, including one that read “Impeach Council.”

        Emotions continue to run high in the city after nearly a year of controversy. There has also been a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Clark improperly spent city funds — a probe that ended in the fall with no charges brought - and a blistering state audit that questioned $44,000 in spending by city officials.

        “You've all done a superb job of embarrassing and humiliating one another,” resident Greg Kilburn said during the meeting.


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