Anti-toll group demands Bridges Authority disclose conflicts of interest

Before the Louisville-Southern Indiana Bridges Authority votes on a financial plan to pay for the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, an anti-tolling organization is calling for its members to reveal any potential conflicts of interest.

“The public needs to know if ‘Tolling’ Authority members or their families have ties to Wall Street banks or construction companies that stand to profit from potentially lucrative construction, consulting, or finance contracts,” says Shawn Reilly, co-founder of Say No to Bridge Tolls, a grassroots group opposed to tolls being placed on existing infrastructure. “There are definitely some potential problems given that members of the authority have serious ties to businesses and groups that will benefit from the project and tolling.”

In response to new ethics rules, along with growing anti-tolling sentiment and concern about the elimination of public comment at their regular meetings, Say No to Bridge Tolls has submitted a request for copies of all Bridges Authority members disclosure statements before the Dec. 16 meeting.

If the deadline is not met a formal ethics complaints will be filled, says Reilly.

Earlier this week, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered members of policy-making boards and commissions to reveal any potential conflicts of interest in an official statements. Members of the bi-state authority were appointed by Beshear, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, which puts them under the purview of both states. On Tuesday, the Beshear administration sent out a memorandum to chairpersons that requires them to communicate any business, financial or personal interest that may create an “actual or perceived” conflict.

The grassroots group points out that at least five members of the bi-state authority have ties to the non-profit group, Build the Bridges Coalition, a consortium of organizations that support the full project.

In December, the coalition paid for a new study that asserts tolls will cost local commuters only $1 per one-way trip across new and existing bridges, including the Sherman-Minton bridge, but would require rare federal approval in order to be tolled.

From Say No to Bridge Tolls:

For example, Greater Louisville Inc., One Southern Indiana and the Louisville Urban League are all part of the coalition. Tolling Authority members, include chairman Charles Buddeke, who also is on the GLI board; Joe Reagan, GLI’s CEO; co-chairman Kerry Stemler and member Pat Byrne, who are affiliated with One Southern Indiana; and Ben Richmond, CEO of the Louisville Urban League may all have conflicts of interest.  Additionally, member Sandra Frazier may also have conflicts of interest. Her firm Tandem Public Relations built the website for The Build the Bridges Coalition and worked with the coalition on an aggressive media relations outreach program (according to their website).

The 14-member body is set to formally adopt tolling at its next meeting as a means to finance the behemoth public works project, which seeks to build an East End bridge, a downtown bridge and an expansion of Spaghetti Junction. Recent developments, however, indicate that funding mechanisms for the project are running dry, and authority leaders admit financing looks bleak while setting a construction date of August 2012.

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