Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Mayor's check

Villa Hills battle continues

        VILLA HILLS — This we know.

        On March 22, Villa Hills Mayor Clark sent, without the knowledge or blessing of his City Council, a check for $25,025 in taxpayer money to All-Rite Concrete in Florence.

        The funds were to be used to build sidewalks, something that residents in some parts of Villa Hills have been seeking for years.

        We also know that Mr. Clark, while professing he was only trying to meet the needs of his community, went against city policy and possibly broke the law by not putting the expenditure out to bid.

        The majority of council, which gets along with the mayor about as well as Darva gets along with Rick, demanded answers.

        At first the mayor stalled. Then he said he made “a mistake.” Then he went into “everybody's picking on me” mode by labeling council's legitimate inquiries as a “witch hunt.”

        In fairness to the mayor, he can't be blamed for looking over his shoulder. Since taking office a couple of years ago, he and council have repeatedly clashed.

        But part of the conflict can be blamed on the mayor's arrogance and bluster, as evidenced in this comment he made last year about council:

        “One of the reasons they (council) dislike me the most is I get things done — over, around or through them,” Mr. Clark said.

        Council is not blameless. A majority is still mad that Mr. Clark whipped their political ally and buddy Denny Stein in the 1998 mayor's race.

        So while there have been some pure political battles on council, this latest episode seems a lot more serious. So at the behest of council and Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Don Buring, investigators from the Kentucky Attorney General's ominous-sounding “public corruption unit” have been poking around the city for the past few weeks trying to get answers to what is going on.

        Mr. Clark has said he made a boo-boo by sending the check but was not trying to defraud the city, as council members have alleged.

        Some on council feel something far more sinister was taking place, but they won't say exactly what, for fear of derailing the investigation or damaging what is left of the mayor's reputation.

        “What the mayor (has) said makes no sense to me,” Councilman Mike Sadouskas said. “We still don't have any answers. That's why we voted for the (attorney general's) investigation. I don't know where this paper trail is going to ultimately lead, but I think it's more than just a simple mistake.”

        What makes the situation even harder on the mayor are some comments he made last year about the spending habits of council and how he was going to clean up and improve the city's purchasing procedures.

        Mr. Clark even seemed to admit he was playing politics in trying to beat council to the punch when it came to getting the sidewalks paved.

        “In the political world, it is wrong for elected officials to let their differences deprive the community from needs that are important and for which funds are available,” Mr. Clark said in explaining why he sent the check in the first place.

        This situation seems to be far more serious than the political squabbles that have come out of Villa Hills in the past. A lot of questions still need to be answered.

        What remains to be seen is: Will a Kenton County grand jury be involved?

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.


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