Thought the Green/Shanklin Era of dramadramadrama among the Democratic Caucus of the Louisville Metro Council was a thing of the past? Apparently not.
This afternoon during their weekly caucus meeting, Chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch suddenly told members that one of their fellow Democrats was under investigation for actively working to defeat another fellow Democratic council member up for election this year, which is against their caucus rules and may be grounds for expulsion from the caucus. The news caught several by surprise (Shanklin, Woolridge and Hamilton) while a few members argued that such rules should be strictly enforced (Yates and Ward-Pugh).
Whoever the suspected guilty party is, or the target, no one is saying on the record. However, Caucus spokesperson Tony Hyatt provided some details for us to work from.
1. The suspected guilty party is the staffer of a Council member, not the member itself, though this might still mean the Council member faces disciplinary action. Councilman Owen asked if a council member’s staffer committing a violation of rules is the same as if a council member committed it, and Welch conceded that this is a gray area. Ward-Pugh suggested amending the caucus rules to add specificity to them so that a staffer’s sin would also apply to their boss.
2. The alleged “victim” of the campaigning is a Democratic council member up for election this year and facing an opponent. By deduction, that means the target has to be one of five members: Attica Scott, Mary Woolridge, Cheri Bryant Hamilton, Marianne Butler or Dan Johnson.
3. Hyatt says a lot of the details are very gray on how this would proceed. If the investigation shows that the Council member violated the rules (specifically “Working to defeat an incumbent member of the Caucus in a primary or general election”), the caucus would vote to kick the member out of the caucus, though they would keep their job. Being purged from the caucus would mean the member would lose certain committee posts or other benefits that caucus members receive. Another item that isn’t clear is the definition of “working to defeat” a member. Does this mean actively campaigning, organizing, strategizing and fundraising for an opponent? Or could it be as simple as talking smack about a fellow caucus member behind their back? The rules aren’t clear.
The only thing that is clear is that the dramadramadrama among the Democratic Caucus on Metro Council is here to stay.
**** UPDATE #1 ****
As for the “gray area” of whether a staff member’s misconduct can lead to the expulsion of a Council member from the caucus, the exact language from their official rules and procedures only mentions the actions of a Council member, not staffers:
3) The following circumstances may provide a basis to suspend or expel a member of the Democratic Caucus:
i) Unethical or adjudicated illegal activities that bring embarrassment and public scorn upon the Caucus, the Council or the Democratic Party.
ii) Working to defeat an incumbent member of the Caucus in a primary or general election.
iii) Violation of Caucus Rules
Nothing about staffer behavior there. So unless there’s evidence that a Council member was directing a staffer to work against a fellow member, I would think that expulsion from the Caucus is going to be difficult.
**** UPDATE #2 ****
Councilman David James told LEO tonight that “it is (his) understanding” that Welch was referring to him today in the Democratic Caucus meeting, specifically that his staffer Wanda Mitchell-Smith is working to defeat a fellow Democratic Council member.
However, James says that the charges are “absolutely incorrect. It is just not true. I don’t know what this is all about.”
The plot thickens…
**** UPDATE #3 ****
We’ve gone back and transcribed much of the Caucus meeting to see if we can pry out any more meaning behind the internal Democratic drama tonight.
Here’s Welch presenting the news to the Caucus at the end of the meeting:
“It’s been brought to my attention that there’s a staff member of one of our Caucus members that has been actively working against another one of our Caucus members… That kind of activity is in our Caucus rules, that we don’t do that to one another. The Caucus staff is a reflection of the Caucus member. If the Caucus staff is out there working against, then it is perceived that you are out there working against. I’m not going to name names. We’re doing research now… That is not going to be allowed in our Caucus. Working to defeat one of our Caucus Democrats is not professional, and it’s against our rules.”
Tina Ward-Pugh then spoke up and talked about how important these rules are, asked if those rules needed to be amended at all for clarity, and asked about what the charged Council member is supposed to do.
Welch replied by saying ““Pretty much, this is ‘if you know who you are, stop.’ Today.”
Shanklin then spoke up and said it’s silly to punish a Council member for a staffers actions that they might have know nothing about, saying “You can’t discipline me for somebody that’s doing something out there that I don’t know anything about… You can’t discipline me for somebody else.”
(It should be noted that Shanklin can’t be disciplined for things that she does herself, too, but that’s another story.)
Ward-Pugh responded by saying “You are responsible for what your staff members are out there doing,” which David Yates seemed to at least partially agree with.
Then there was this important exchange between Owen and Welch:
Owen: “A member of the Caucus, as defined in this document, includes a staff member?”
Welch: “Well that’s a gray area. What we could propose is to write that into our rules, if we’d like to do that.”
One would also assume that if the charges are true, and you had to amend the rules in order to make the infraction a clear violation, that it would be very difficult to “convict” the Council member under the old rules.
Attica Scott then said that if someone knew her staffer was doing something wrong, they should immedicately come to her and tell her so that she could rectify the situation. (i.e., don’t try to kick me out of the Caucus without even letting me know what is happening). Woolridge then jokingly asked if she is supposed to monitor her staffer during the weekends, or 24/7, in order to make sure that he/she wasn’t breaking any Caucus rules.
The meeting closed by Yates asking Welch to clarify that if the person accused “chilled out” and stopped what they were doing, then this whole matter might blow over, which Welch agreed with.
There you go… stay tuned.