Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Mayor's resignation sought

Villa Hills officials seek deal to avoid whistle-blower lawsuits

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — By the end of this week, either Mayor Steve Clark will leave office or the city will face a pair of whistle-blower lawsuits from two fired employees.

        Since last week, members of City Council and the attorney they hired to investigate the firings - Covington lawyer Phil Taliaferro - have been trying to strike an agreement with Mr. Clark, under which he would step down as mayor, sources close to the negotiations spurred by a months-long controversy have indicated.

        Mr. Clark could not be reached for comment. Mr. Taliaferro and members of council refused Tuesday to say anything about the negotiations.

        Tonight at 7 p.m. council will hold its fifth special meeting this year at River Ridge Elementary School on Amsterdam Road, chosen to accommodate the large crowds that have turned out for the meetings.

        If Mr. Clark agrees to resign, it could be announced at the meeting, sources said.

        Supporters of the fired employees — former Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown and former City Clerk Sue Kramer — said settling the matter accomplishes two goals: The employees are returned to their jobs and the city avoids a potentially expensive court proceedings. However, if there is not a deal that includes Mr. Clark's resignation and the reinstatement of both employees, lawyer Steve Wolnitzek will file whistle-blower lawsuits against the city within days.

        Mr. Wolnitzek said he has sent a letter to Mr. Taliaferro informing him about the lawsuits and the Friday deadline for settling the matter.

        For reasons he has refused to publicly state, Mr. Clark fired Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer - the wife of Councilman Bob Kramer — on Dec. 28.

        Mr. Brown almost immediately retained Mr. Wolnitzek, a Covington lawyer with experience in taking whistle-blower cases — legal actions where workers allege retaliation by employers or managers for exposing workplace wrongdoing.

        Mr. Wolnitzek said Tuesday that he is also representing Mrs. Kramer and that both she and Mr. Brown are prepared to sue. “Under no circumstances will they return to work if the mayor is not gone,” Mr. Wolnitzek said,

        Mr. Wolnitzek said the suits will allege that both employees were fired because they cooperated with state, county and city investigations into allegations that the mayor improperly spent city money and sexually harassed a city contractor, Judy Hodges.

        Mr. Clark has denied the charges in both probes.

        A Kenton County grand jury investigated the allegations of misspending - which centered around a $25,025 check sent to a Florence concrete company for sidewalk construction - but did not issue an indictment last fall against the mayor.

        Mrs. Hodges, a CPA who last year worked for the city as an accountant, told investigators and city employees she was harassed by the mayor.

        But she has not filed any formal charges or complaints against him and has refused several requests for interviews.

        “I believe that Corky Brown and Sue Kramer have outstanding whistle-blower lawsuits,” Mr. Wolnitzek said. “I will be able to show to a jury, without any problem, that both were fired in retaliation for cooperating in investigations into Mayor Clark.”

        Sources say Mr. Clark has contemplated a settlement offer that would include his resignation in return for money to pay legal bills incurred fighting the charges against him.

        Mr. Wolnitzek said he expects that if Mr. Clark does resign, council members would rehire Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer.

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