Thursday, July 15, 2004

Covington hires ombudsman


Neighborhood activist to coordinate services

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Anyone here who's ever wondered how to fix a pothole, clean up a rundown property or stop speeders on neighborhood streets will soon have one person to call.

Neighborhood activist Suzann Gettys will take over as Covington's ombudsman/neighborhood services coordinator on July 27. For the first time in 26 years, the city will have a designated person to field questions and complaints about city operations.

Covington City Commission approved Gettys' appointment Tuesday. She will earn $700 a week for the full-time job. Gettys has served on Covington's code enforcement board since its inception and has been invohved in block watch efforts on the Eastside.

"This is going to allow us to do our jobs,'' said Commissioner Alex Edmondson, who added that Covington department heads will depend on Gettys to be their liaison with the public. "You're going to become the eyes and ears of Covington to some degree.''

In June 1977, Covington hired John Jasper as the city's first ombudsman. However, a new administration reassigned Jasper as a city housing inspector in February 1978. At the time, then-City Commissioner Carl Bowman said he thought the ombudsman's duties should be handled by city commissioners.

Covington Mayor Butch Callery said he was among those who argued for keeping the ombudsman's position 26 years ago, and he believes it's still needed today.

Callery figures he gets about 50 calls a week from people who don't know who to talk to about a particular problem. Gettys will take complaints from individuals and neighborhoods, make sure the proper departments address them and try to respond within 48 hours, he said.

In response to a question from Commissioner Craig Bohman, City Manager Greg Jarvis said the ombudsman's position is not in the budget through an omission on the staff's part.

"However, I can give the commission assurances that we will, through daily management of the budget and through position vacancies, be able to fund this position,'' Jarvis said.

Bohman, who described Gettys as "the best qualified candidate'' for a job that city officials have promised the neighborhoods for a long time, joined his fellow commissioners in voting for Gettys, after he was assured that a budget amendment would be brought before the city commission at its next meeting.

As part of her duties, Gettys will serve as the neighborhood services coordinator, a position that's been vacant since Michele Geraci's retirement last year. In that capacity, Gettys will attend neighborhood meetings and serve as a liaison for Covington's neighborhood groups.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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