From federal cases to ‘funky stuff’

When he isn’t knee-deep in legal issues, Michael Bartlett likes to fish. Here he is with a trout in Montana.

Departing City Solicitor Bartlett looks back on career 

COVINGTON, Ky. – If there’s one thing that Michael Bartlett learned in almost six years in the City of Covington’s legal office, it was to be alert and nimble.
“As the saying goes, no day is the same,” Bartlett said. “Every time that phone rings, it could be anything from a wrong number to the Department of Justice wanting to talk about a consent decree about school resource officers. That’s just the variety and the scale. Literally, the next call could be a federal case. In municipal law, you can never be complacent.”
Today, however, Bartlett’s career as Covington’s City Solicitor ends. He is leaving the City for an “exciting opportunity” in the private sector with a lifelong friend.
“I wasn’t looking, but this is just something I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “It’s life-changing for my family.”
Bartlett said he leaves Covington excited about the City’s “truly tremendous growth and positive momentum” and proud of his and his legal team’s part in it.
The Office of the City Solicitor tackles legal issues ranging from reviewing legal terms of contracts to defending the City in lawsuits to overseeing compliance and licensing of alcohol-related businesses to advising staff and elected officials so laws governing public agencies are followed. The solicitor also monitors the work of outside counsel brought in to handle technical issues like bonds and development agreements.
But the job, as Bartlett said, also included a lot of “funky stuff.”
At Covington, he helped write ordinances dealing with new issues and programs like commercial quadricycles (aka “pedal wagons” or “bike bars”), food trucks, Airbnbs, the Crown Act, and changing early Sunday liquor sales to coincide with time zone considerations associated with the Cincinnati Bengals playing across the ocean in England.
He also worked in an area near to his heart – defending Covington police officers and helping to advise them on changes in state law.
Having represented police officers during his early years as an attorney in the private sector, Bartlett said he had grown to deeply appreciate the mission of law enforcement and local government to the degree that hearing about the ambush-style shooting of Cincinnati Police Officer Sonny Kim in 2015 had compelled him to apply to work in Covington.
“That was one of the things that brought me here and kept me here so long,” he said. “(Police) are there for us and have our backs, and I wanted to repay them with the same commitment. I was there for them 24/7.”
More recently, Bartlett and his legal team, which includes Cassandra Zoda, Starr Ford, Emilee Buttrum, and the law office of Gatlin & Voelker (on a contract basis), helped the City clean up, reorganize, and update its entire Code of Ordinances to make it easier to access and to eliminate outdated references.
That task, like many others, required a lot of collaboration and different skill sets, Bartlett said.
“I work with a team of talented professionals – that’s the secret for me,” he said.
Bartlett also credited the talented attorneys that preceded him with setting a high bar for professionalism and legal representation, saying he particularly appreciated Frank Warnock’s mentorship and Jay Fossett for being helpful.
As for going forward, Covington’s Interim City Manager Ken Smith said the City planned to begin the process for filling Bartlett’s position shortly.
“We will definitely miss Michael,” Smith said. “He has a love for this city and passion for making it better. Personally, I enjoyed our many conversations about the law, City operations, obscure movie/television references, and, perhaps most of all, his random flow charts. We all wish him great success in his new adventure.”
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