A day after Metro Council President Jim King, D-10, called for an audit of all council discretionary spending, Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, says he has asked Mayor Greg Fischer to cut their neighborhood funds by more than half in next year’s budget.
The suggestion comes after new allegations were brought against Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, who has been implicated in circumventing council rules by rerouting funds through a local organization.
“If the mayor took $40,000 from each of the members he could save a half million dollars and give another half a million to external agencies that need it,” Miller says. “It appears to me this money is just a council member’s re-election fund used to curry favor with somebody and to help them in future races. I won’t use the word slush fund, but it goes to things directed towards your friends.”
Right now, city lawmakers have $75,000 in their Neighborhood Development Fund in addition to a $100,000 Capital Infrastructure Fund and $38,000 in their office accounts. The council rules allow members to transfer money to the lower account through the appropriations committee.
“If it was more tightly controlled that would be fine, but much of this should simply be run through the mayor’s budget,” he says. “We ought to cut back these funds and tighten up the ability to transfer. People here see it as a source of power and nobody likes their power taken away, but we should be legislators and not gift givers.”
The Mayor’s Office was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman told WFPL News that the mayor will consider Miller’s suggestion.
In 2009, Green allocated $7,500 from her office discretionary funds to the non-profit group 100 Black Men of Louisville to hire speakers for a mentoring program. The group’s leaders have said, however, that Green’s office instructed them to ask for more money than they needed in order to spend the additional funding elsewhere at her direction.
The arrangement was against council rules and may have breached ethical standards established by city lawmakers who allocate tax dollars to several organizations in their districts. It has also brought up a number of troubling questions, including if Green and other council members have made similar “side deals” with non-profit organizations before and as a result put more scrutiny on the council’s discretionary spending.
In response, Councilman King is asking for a city audit of all council discretionary spending over $5,000 for the past two years and recommends that expenditures over that amount go through the city’s Office of Management and Budget. The city auditor has indicated an outside firm may need to be brought in to review the expenditures.
For years, council Democrats and Republicans have disagreed on the use of discretionary funds, in large part because the Democrats say they represent diverse areas in the old city limits that have groups requiring additional funding outside the main budget.
“You have to look at each district to understand their needs in regards to groups and infrastructure and in some places such as road repairs that are woefully short of money with the state and city,”says Councilwoman Madonna Flood, D-24, adding the freshman councilman is unaware of the funds importance. “Do I think we could use tighter controls? Yes. It has been brought to light that someone could have done something that is not totally ethical, but at the same time there are some controls we can change without slashing.”