Thursday, August 10, 2000

Clark's reign in Villa Hills nearing end?

Sources: Mayor negotiating deal to leave office

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — The short but tumultuous reign of Villa Hills Mayor Steve Clark — the subject of two investigations stemming from a $25,025 check for sidewalk construction — could be nearing an end.

        The Kentucky Attorney General's office and Kenton County Attorney Don Buring have offered Mr. Clark a deal to resign as mayor, an offer that the mayor has so far refused, according to sources close to the investigations.

        It is not clear what, if any, charges Mr. Clark would have to plead to under the agreement. But it is believed that his resignation was the main topic of a lengthy meeting Tuesday involving Mr. Clark, his attorney, Mike Schulkens of Newport; David Williams, an investigator with the attorney general's public-corruption unit; and Mr. Buring.

        Mr. Buring refused to comment, as did Corey Bellamy, a spokesman for Attorney General Ben Chandler.

        Mr. Clark and Mr. Schulkens have not returned phone calls to comment. Mr. Williams was unavailable for comment.

        But the sources said Mr. Clark and Mr. Schulkens spent much of the meeting negotiating terms of an agreement that would result in Mr. Clark stepping down as mayor, an office he won in 1998.

        Meanwhile, Villa Hills City Attorney Lawson Walker has opened a second investigation and is attempting to retrieve information from a city-owned computer used by the mayor.

        Mr. Walker would not comment on the investigation.

        But two members of city council, who spoke on the condition that their names not be used, said that during a special council meeting Friday night, Mr. Walker told council he had hired a computer expert to retrieve data that had been deleted from Mr. Clark's computer.

        Mr. Walker did not elaborate on what the computer consultant was looking for, but he told council he wanted the information because it could be used as evidence in a lawsuit that might be filed against the city.

        Mr. Walker has confiscated the computer. Earlier, the attorney general's investigators reviewed the hard

        drives — the components where information is stored and logged — of computers used by the mayor.

        Mr. Clark did not attend the Friday meeting, which was closed to the public, but he did show up just as the 45-minute meeting ended, council members said.

        The initial investigation centered around a $25,025 check Mr. Clark sent in March to All-Rite Concrete of Florence for sidewalk construction.

        The company cashed the check, but returned the money after saying it had not received an order for sidewalk construction. City Council members requested an investigation because, under the city's purchasing procedures and state law, expenditures of $10,000 or more must be put out to bid.

        Mr. Clark said he had the check drafted to expedite sidewalk work in the city, though at the time no work was planned. He denied any wrongdoing.

        “As soon as I discovered the error, the money was returned to the general fund,” Mr. Clark said during a May 23 council meeting.

        “Accusations are being made that this was a planned attempt to defraud the people of Villa Hills. This is untrue, and I emphasize that as strong as I possibly can.” Some members of council expected Mr. Clark to resign during last Friday's special meeting. But during that meeting his lone political ally on council, Mary Koenig, was “openly defiant” in defending the mayor, a council member said Wednesday.

        But on Tuesday Mrs. Koenig — who could not be reached to comment — did not file to run for re-election. Some council members and others in the city took that as a sign.

        “Mary recruited Steve Clark to run for office; she mentored him and was his ally on council,” said a longtime Villa Hills resident who is active in city politics.

        Mr. Clark, who works as a manager at NS Steel in Newport, was a political neophyte when he upset incumbent mayor Denny Stein two years ago.

        At times engaging, Mr. Clark can also be openly confrontational. He clashed often with other council members, removed his critics from city boards and committees, and seemed to try to impress and even intimidate people by reminding them that he served in the Marine Corps.


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