Covington imposes new campaign rules for employees and elected officials

No use of city time or equipment
Posted at 7:43 AM, Feb 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-19 10:35:27-05

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Updated ethics rules in Covington make elections violations for city employees clear -- no employee or elected official can use city time or equipment to work on campaigns.

These rules would have given the city recourse in the its allegation that former City Manager Larry Klein and former Mayor Sherry Carran violated campaign finance and records-retention laws.

At the least, the updated rules could have sent the issue to the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, the body that reviews ethics violations for multiple cities including Covington.

"Use of public resources to help candidates is wrong," said Mayor Joe Meyer, who beat Carran in November 2016 with 56 percent of the vote. Klein left in February 2017 after Meyer questioned his actions in the election, according to WCPO reports.

The Kentucky Attorney General found no legal problems associated with the election, but the city hired Lexington attorney Scott White, who heavily criticized Klein and Carran in a December 2017 report. 

"It may have risen to the level of illegality or it may not," said Meyer, who added that ethics rules were not designed to "criminalize someone's behavior" but to help built the public trust.

City Commissioner Tim Downing, who helped craft the new rules with the mayor and Commissioner Tim Huizenga, said it's about setting a higher standard for city employees and elected officers.

"It tends to make the city better," he said.

The original ordinance had not been updated since 1994, according to City Manager David Johnston. The new ethics rules were drafted using a model from the Kentucky League of Cities and one from Harvard University.

"It's important to make sure we're holding the people who are in charge accountable," said Downing. "The more we do to aid in transparency, the better."

The new ethics rules also define misuse of confidential information, something Meyer credits to the League's model. 

"Among other things, we get advance notice of developments," said Meyer. "We make a lot of these deals work because they were made in confidence. Saying we can expect confidential information to stay confidential is prudent."

In a separate ordinance, the city now requires the city manager to be a member in good standing with ICMA (International City/County Managers Association). Meyer said it's another way to hold the city manager accountable, since ICMA also has its own ethics rules.

"We want a professional manager here," he said.

The new ethics rules also allow city employees and appointees on city boards to run for mayor or city commission without resigning their post first, Meyer said.

"The original ordinance was designed to keep a couple of people from running. If anyone who is a city employee runs, we now have some restrictions and guidelines to make sure they don't use city resources."

Among other changes, the ordinance modernized language throughout, said Downing. It now includes partners of married couples, too.

The ordinance was approved Jan. 30.