In this week’s LEO, my Sixth & Jefferson column brought attention to the frustration Metro Council Democrats have with the local press due to a number of stories questioning their ethical decision-making. I thought it would be relevant to share parts of the conversation during their caucus meeting that couldn’t fit into this week’s edition, but may shed light on the roots of their displeasure.
From my notebook:
Councilman Tom Owen, D-8: I’ve just been reading too many sentences and paragraphs about (Louisville Metro Animal Services) in the newspaper and LEO. Lord, the allegations are just endless. If you filled out a chart listing the allegations they’re just endless and I don’t want our caucus to somehow be caught not being for a massively improved LMAS. I don’t have much more to say about that other than I fret about it. I made a list and it trickles off the page and it’s unsettling.
(Interim Director) Wayne Zelinsky on the face of it seems to be a like a decent person, a decent manager. I wish we knew more than we now know. And I guess it should ultimately be heard in one of our committees.
The suggestion by Owen that the council take a more direct role in looking at the embattled department was at first met with positive reaction by fellow Democrats, that was until the county attorney scared them off and advised the majority caucus that bringing in the agency’s leadership to testify before a committee might be beyond their grasp.
County Attorney Bill O’Brien: On that subject matter, the suits have been filed. I’m not sure that you all should have any role. If there’s a complaint about LMAS it should go over to the Mayor’s Office. For you all to start an investigation in the midst of a lawsuit I’m not sure that you should. That’s really not your role. Your role is to make sure they spend the money properly.
There are several lawsuits, one is by a contract veterinarian and she’s filed a suit that includes sexual allegations and contract violations against Zelinksy and Meloche. There have been several cases against Meloche. A Dawn Simpson filed one alleging some sort of sexually inappropriate behavior. So that was primarily against Meloche. So I’m just cautioning you, we have lawsuits that are going on and I’m not sure what the caucus should really have to do with that. If there’s a complaint filed with the Mayor’s Office or if it’s a criminal behavior then the public standards unit they’ll handle it. Other than that I think you all should just stay out of it.
One of those people has called for the actual murder of all the people working in Metro Animal Services — a Glenn Burden/Butler. I think you may just want to stay away from those people. She’s just on Facebook calling for them to be killed.
Earlier today, LEO Weekly contacted the county attorney’s office to verify if any physical threats against animal service supervisors had been made, but their spokesman was unavailable for comment. Given that this meeting was the weekend after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and council members were visibly unsettled by the allegation, it gives the comment even more gravitas.
The column also pointed out that council Democrats are unhappy with their public relations, particularly after a story in The Courier-Journal called attention to Insight Communications offering several council members free tickets and access to a luxury suite during the UK vs. U of L men’s basketball game.
In the midst of that discussion, Councilman Dan Johnson D-21, who considered taking the tickets but later declined, complained that many of these stories stem from the comprehensive ethics reform that passed last spring.
Johnson: I don’t know if we ought not visit ethics and change the rules to be less restrictive than what it is. I thought that was ridiculous. What I do privately in my campaign is anywhere associated with ethics. It’s ridiculous. That’s where the problem comes in. Ethics is if you take somebody’s money who wants you to do a certain action from your campaign. Beyond that I don’t think there should be any violation. Marianne Butler had a better ordinance so maybe we ought to look at re-doing that again and going back with it.
Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15: Most of the current ordinance is our version. Most of the stuff that Fleming tried to get in there – a couple of things — the county attorney shot down, didn’t they Bill?
O’Brien: We just help you evaluate certain things.
With a 17-9 majority, Democrats control the council agenda and Johnson at one point suggested they use that power to form a committee to review the city bill in order to see if the law is being used for political reasons. During the nearly two-year debate, the broadness of the legislation had been an early concern for council Democrats, who stalled the legislation’s passage until a work group forged a compromised ordinance in December 2009.
While some members concurred with Johnson’s point that the ethics complaints and news stories were more about slinging mud than good government practices, other members cautioned against revisiting that debate and believe that Democrats simply missed an opportunity to be for transparency.
Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26: I think with ethics, we’ve lost that battle. And it’s a battle you never re-win. What you take from ethics is we learn our lesson that we did not handle that properly … it would be negative to reopen it and would be viewed as such.
Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3: We are always reacting. There was an opportunity for us to change ethics. Marianne gave me an amendment and I got it on the floor only to have my Democratic colleagues vote it down. I don’t know whether you all remember that or not? I share your sentiments (Brent), we have to live with what we have.