Friday, May 11, 2001

Independence, fired chief settle

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDEPENDENCE — City Council approved a whistleblower suit settlement in excess of $400,000 with fired Police Chief Ed Porter during a closed-door meeting last week, The Cincinnati Enquirer has learned.

        The city's libel insurance will cover all costs except a $5,000 deductible and up to $7,500 in attorney fees, said Councilman Ike Gabbard. It passed 5-1, with Mr. Gabbard casting the dissenting vote.

        The settlement — the result of a dispute over a case involving a councilman installing carpet tacks on a city-owned building in a public park — awards Mr. Porter $100,000 up front to pay for back salary and his retirement benefits, Mr. Gabbard said. The councilman said Mr. Porter will receive $2,000 per month for life through an annuity, guaranteed for 20 years. The money covers punitive damages under the whistleblowers act, Mr. Gabbard said.

        Four council members contacted would not discuss the terms of the settlement. Nor did the city solicitor, who was involved in drafting the settlement that was presented to council during a special meeting May 1.

        Mr. Porter was making more than $50,000 per year when he was fired by Mayor Tom Kriege in May 2000, after allegations the mayor interfered with the police prosecution of the councilman charged with installing the carpet tacks. Mr. Porter then filed state and federal “whistleblower” lawsuits against the city and the mayor. The state suit was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday in Kenton County court.

        As part of the deal, Mr. Porter will report back to work as chief for one day, according to Mr. Gabbard, and then resign. At that time, Mayor Kriege will write Mr. Porter a letter of recommendation.

        Despite a confidentiality clause, Mr. Gabbard released details of the agreement this week.

        “The mayor screwed up,” he said. “He shouldn't have fired Mr. Porter. He fired him without any cause at all.”

        Mr. Kriege had no comment on the settlement.

        Mr. Gabbard lost a bid for mayor to Mr. Kriege in 1998. Mr. Gabbard resigned as mayor in 1997, after Kentucky's attorney general threatened to sue the 4 1/2-year mayor to force his ouster over a 1954 criminal conviction for receiving stolen property.

        Councilman Jim Kudera said: “The (police chief's) termination I support. The settlement I accept. And the terms I won't talk about.”

        In 1999, then-Councilman Steve Feldhaus had strips of carpet tacks installed on the roof of 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.

        An Independence police detective investigated and sought misdemeanor charges of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief against Mr. Feldhaus.

        Mr. Porter alleged that Mr. 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.

        Mr. Porter referred questions about the outcome of his two lawsuits to his attorney Steve Wolnitzek.

        “We were happy with the outcome,” Mr. Wolnitzek, of Covington said. “Chief Porter looks forward to moving on.”


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