Thursday, March 08, 2001

Cheers follow Clark resignation

Villa Hills mayor proved controversial

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — Though he once vowed that “nobody is going to make me run away” Steve Clark finally succumbed to an onslaught of public and legal pressure Wednesday by agreeing to resign as mayor.

        Word of the resignation - effective Friday at 5 p.m. — caused a packed City Council meeting of more than 100 people to erupt into wild applause as they stood and cheered for more than a full minute.

        “It's just been a long time coming,” said resident Ed Niewahner, one of the leaders of a citizens' group that has been calling for the mayor to step down.

        “I'm just glad it's here, because we're all ready to move on.”

        Council agreed to pay $5,850 for legal bills Mr. Clark incurred while defending himself through a steady barrage of investigations.

        No other compensation or payments will be made to Mr. Clark, who was elected in 1998, said Covington lawyer Phil Taliaferro, a special counsel who helped negotiate Mr. Clark's resignation.

        Mr. Taliaferro, hired by a council majority to probe Mr. Clark's dismissal of two city employees, will be paid an estimated $25,000 by the city.

        “I think in the end, he wanted to do the honorable thing and put all this behind the city,” Mr. Taliaferro said Wednesday night.

        “Mayor Clark looked at the city, and saw that it would be in the city's best interest if he resigned. He told me today ... it was a win-win for the city and it would help begin a healing process.”

        Mr. Clark was not at Wednesday's meeting because he had to work, Mr. Taliaferro said.

        There was no answer at Mr. Clark's home, and phone messages requesting comment were not returned Wednesday night.

        Mr. Taliaferro, Mr. Clark and Villa Hills City Attorney Mike Duncan have been negotiating terms of the resignation since Feb. 28.

        The final documents were signed about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, when Mr. Taliaferro received a faxed copy of the agreement signed by Mr. Clark.

        Council likely will select an interim replacement at its March 21 meeting. Councilman Mike Sadouskas, who council appointed Wednesday as temporary mayor, has emerged as the front-runner to become mayor. The interim mayor will fill out the remaining two years of Mr. Clark's term.

        Mr. Clark has been under investigation for firing city employees, allegedly sexually harassing a former employee and misspending city funds.

        Though he has denied all of the charges and was cleared by a Kenton County grand jury last year on the allegations of misspending, Mr. Clark may have been spurred to resign under the threat of lawsuits being filed against the city.

        Most of the public outrage at Mr. Clark was over his Dec. 28 firing of two longtime employees — Police Chief Michael “Corky” Brown and City Clerk Sue Kramer.

        Mr. Clark never did say why the two were fired. Freedom of Information requests filed by the Enquirer for documents relating to the two public employees' performance yielded only one document, a self-evaluation filled out by Mrs. Kramer.

        But Covington lawyer Steve Wolnitzek, who represents both employees, has said both were fired for cooperating on investigations of the mayor.

        Mr. Wolnitzek gave council an ultimatum earlier this week - either Mr. Clark is gone or the suits are filed.

        With Mr. Clark's resignation, council is preparing to attempt to rehire Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer.

        Mr. Wolnitzek said his two clients will seek back pay and other compensation before agreeing to return and drop any consideration of legal action against the city.

        “These are two people who have been through hell,” Mr. Wolnitzek said. “They deserve something for what they've been put through.”

        Council still has to work out the details of compensation packages for the employees but members seemed agreeable to bringing both Mr. Brown and Mrs. Kramer back to their old jobs.

        Mrs. Kramer is the wife of City Council member Bob Kramer.

        Though word had leaked that an exit deal was in the works, many of the council members and residents showed up at Wednesday's meeting not expecting Mr. Clark to resign.

        Throughout the entire episode, the mayor has vowed to fight all charges and not step down. At a Jan. 17 meeting he made the comment, “Nobody is going to make me run away.”

        Members of Mr. Brown's family were elated that Mr. Clark had resigned.

        “There's no more Clark in Clarksville,” said Mr. Brown's sister, Kim Gemmer of Grant County.

        “Life is good.”

        Mr. Kramer said he is looking forward to getting the city back to normal.

        “I've been on council for nearly 20 years, but the last two have been pretty rough,” Mr. Kramer said after Wednesday's meeting.

        “Let's build parks, let's build sidewalks, let's hold baseball clinics and soccer clinics. The next time we're on the news I want it to be for something positive.”


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