By John David Dyche
The legislature of Louisville, Kentucky's largest city, has forfeited any claim to public confidence. Three members of the Metro Council – Attica Scott, David Tandy, and Brent Ackerson – have demonstrated themselves to be contemptuous of taxpayers and unworthy of citizens' trust.
A sometimes Kafkaesque trial before a 20-member "Council Court" conclusively demonstrated that Democratic councilwoman Barbara Shanklin was guilty of ethical misconduct in her handling of public money. A bipartisan supermajority of 16 Council members so voted.
Only 4 members – David James, Dan Johnson, Mary Wooldridge, and Cheri Bryant Hamilton – concluded that Shanklin was not guilty of misconduct. However, in an outrage unseen since the advent of merged city-county government 2003, Scott, Tandy, and Ackerson found Shanklin guilty, but, amazingly, voted against removing her from office.
So by a single vote Shanklin will stay in power. Councilman Ken Fleming was correct when he said of this travesty, "This is going to fracture the community, it will fracture this council, and it's going to be a disgrace and we're embarrassed and we are so ashamed of what we went through that we are going to have a long time recovering."
Shanklin is the second Council member to face removal proceedings recently. In 2011, the Council correctly voted to expel Judy Green, who, like Shanklin, mishandled public money to benefit her family and favored groups.
Private attorney David Tachau provided a valuable public service by prosecuting Shanklin. He marshaled more than enough evidence in the form of bank statements, canceled checks, and witnesses to prove that she used family members and friends to improperly divert tens of thousands of public dollars to groups she controlled, and that she funneled some of that money to her grandson's girlfriend.
Shanklin's defense, if you can call it that, was that she was guilty only of "slipshod record-keeping," "stupidity and ignorance," and of "not seeing that forms were filled correctly." All that is true, of course, but hardly constitutes a justification for Shanklin's greedy and gross malfeasance.
Her attorney, Aubrey Williams, argued that the case was not about "Republican or Democrat, nor about the black caucus or white caucus." But, as Courier-Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson noted, "All seven Republicans voted to remove her, while all five African-Americans voted to retain her."
Scott, Tandy, and Ackerson did the most damage to the Council's reputation. Their cynical, inconsistent, and politically opportunistic votes to save Shanklin should disqualify them from reelection and from any higher office to which at least the latter two apparently aspire.
Letting the venal Shanklin keep her seat is another sad day for a city in which taxpayers have been repeatedly abused by scandals involving the misuse of millions of dollars in public money. Council President Jim King and the Democrats and Republicans who did their duty deserve gratitude despite the unfortunate outcome.
The proceedings probably cost more money than Shanklin misused, but the principle at stake is priceless and worth protecting. Taxpayers can hope there is at least a deterrent effect on future office-holding grifters.
The rest of Kentucky ought to be able to look to Louisville, which calls itself a "world class city," for leadership. Unfortunately, this squalid Shanklin affair disproves that boast and provides a powerful, but dispiriting, example of unchecked urban corruption.
WDRB's detailed news report on the Shanklin story is available here: http://www.wdrb.com/story/22982135/closings-expected-in-shanklin-ethics-trail. Louisvillians can now only read it, watch it, and weep, but they must remember it at the next Council elections by ousting Shanklin and her enablers.
John David Dyche is an attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.