A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington Mayor reports city spent more than $550k on emergency calls to Emergency Shelter

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

Covington Mayor Joseph U. Meyer wants to deliver a message to the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky: It’s time to talk.

The shelter is located at 436 W. 13th St.

Commissioners agreed at their regular legislative meeting at City Hall Tuesday night.

Emergency Shelter of NKY in Covington — city paid $550k for emergency calls to the shelter in one year. (File photo)

“We’ve heard about it from neighborhood activists and former employees of the shelter, and … I raised the possibility of a management audit to help address the concerns that were raised by the public,” Meyer said. “I will say flat out — we’re not trying to close the shelter or get rid of it. We’re trying to improve the management of the shelter.”

However, Meyer needed the Commission to agree to ask city staff to go to the managers of the shelter and engage them. Then they can all decide how they want to move forward.

Meyer also said he has already talked with a consultant who will perform a managerial audit for less than $20,000 — all of which, he continued, would be paid by federal funding.

Not that the price tag really matters, considering how much the city is spending on emergency calls to the shelter.

Meyer reported Tuesday night that the city has made 235 ambulance runs and 405 police runs to the address in a year, for a total of more than $550,000 spent on emergency calls.

“Not an inconsiderable sum,” Meyer said. “I think we will point out if it were any other business with that number of police calls, they’d be shut down.”

He got to the point.

“I would like to have our city administration contact the management of the shelter to begin a conversation on how to address the city’s concerns,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he was concerned with the number of emergency calls made, the management of the facility, the safety of the workers and patrons, the workload of the staff and the effect the establishment has on the surrounding neighborhood.

In January, Deborah Zeph and Annie Alig, two former employees of the shelter, communicated to the Board about various issues they had witnessed while working there.

“I don’t have a problem with it at all,” said Commissioner Ron Washington. “I believe there’s right ways to doing things and maybe this will help them find that.”

The other commissioners agreed, and City Manager Ken Smith said he would reach out to start the discussion — then report back to get things moving.

Firefighters approved for hiring

Commissioners approved a proposal by Fire Chief Corey Deye to hire nine new firefighters, which puts the total number to 119, and keeps the department eligible for their SAFER grant, or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response FEMA grant.

The Fire Department actually budgets for 122, so each of the hires are in the city budget, Deye said last week.

Mayor Meyer used the approval as evidence that the city’s financial forecast is being managed well.

“We were surprised with the effects of the work-from-home environment and its impact on our budget, which was really very, very severe,” Meyer said. “We’ve had to take a lot of cuts and do quite a bit of work …. I think the fact that we’re hiring nine firefighters tonight is really strong evidence of the fact that the city is successfully managing its way through the whole work-from-home revenue loss situation — so our situation is not so dire as it was feared.”

The Mayor noted a combination of budget cuts, “severe” cuts in programs and increased revenue and grants that have helped turn the tide.

“The financial future of the city is much brighter today than it was a few months ago, but our budget is still tight,” Meyer said. “It will require a lot of financial discipline … the future is bright. We are coming out of this, and we will manage it very successfully.”

Public Comment Ordinance approved

Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance regarding a code of conduct for public comments, including, among other things: the ability to have like-minded groups choose one representative to speak; the ability to have security remove speakers if they exhibit disruptive behavior, and rules about speakers not using hateful language or bullying tactics.

Commissioners also voted 3-2 against an amendment proposed by Commissioner Tim Downing that would have tweaked some of the language in the proposed ordinance. The changes would have included more of a prioritization of topics for speakers rather than just choosing one speaker per topic. However, the majority of the Commission (Meyer, Ron Washington and Steve Hayden) rejected the proposed amendment, with Commissioner Hayden noting there would be no real efficient way to know who would speak on what topic, or how to prioritize them.

Hayden also noted how the state of Kentucky has no law requiring public comment at meetings, while the city of Independence has had a code of conduct for its speakers since 2005.

Meyer pointed out that Commissioners have their own code of conduct that they must abide by.

The ordinance has gotten pushback from some members of the community — and more residents spoke out Tuesday night, alleging that the ordinance would violate their rights to free speech.

“I think this is dangerous and unfair for many reasons,” said resident Mohammad Ahmad. “I realize this is clearly an attempt to expand what I think are Draconian measures to twist the words of constituents that limit free speech that you don’t like.”

However, Commissioner Washington asked the city’s attorneys point-blank if the new ordinance violated anyone’s free speech.

The answer was no.

Last month, Mayor Meyer brought up the idea after dozens of residents had come out over the course of several months to ask commissioners to support a resolution detailing a ceasefire in Gaza. In some of those meetings, the crowds became more boisterous, and in at least one case, a speaker was asked to leave the room after he kept shouting without being recognized.

Both Downing and Commissioner Shannon Smith voted against the ordinance.

Hirings, Promotions, Terminations

Commissioners approved these proposals:

Hiring — Luke McDonnell, Police Officer, Police Department
Promotion – Greg Stacy, Parks and Recreation Manager, Neighborhood Services Department
Termination – Sandy Shoemaker, Finance Technician, Finance Department

Short-term rentals

Commissioners heard the first reading of a proposed ordinance change for short-term rentals, revising density limits and expanding appeals rights related to the grant of a license.

The city eliminated the conditional use and went to a limited use including neighborhoods, making it a combination of historic districts and neighborhoods with density limits.

The ordinance will get a vote in two weeks.

Irvin T. ‘Butch’ Callery (Photo from City of Covington)

Butch Callery

Mayor Meyer ended Tuesday night’s meeting by acknowledging the death of former Commissioner and Mayor Butch Callery.

“(He) served as a city commissioner for over 20 years,” Meyer said. “He served as mayor for eight years …. (He) was a beloved a resident of Latonia … and just had a deep love for this city and for the people who live here. He conducted himself in an extraordinarily generous way. … He will be missed, but his service is greatly appreciated.”

Next Meeting

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., May 7, at the City Building at 20 W. Pike St. in Covington. The meetings can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

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