Council members: we must work past 'emotions' to evoke change - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Council members: we must work past 'emotions' to evoke change

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Calls for change were coupled with emotions and accusations of "grandstanding" Tuesday as a council committee met to consider "sweeping changes" to ethics rules and how council members spend discretionary funds.

The meeting of the Government Accountability and Ethics Committee marked the first of what are sure to be many discussions following the ethics trial of Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin. Shanklin was found guilty of misconduct but kept her seat because there were not enough votes to remove her.

Democrats and Republicans have varying plans on how to tighten ethics rules related to conflicts of interest and reign in spending on Neighborhood Development Funds -- two issues that were at the center of Shanklin's ethics trial.

But progress could be hampered by the continued infighting among council members still upset over Shanklin's case.

"Let me tell you, I'm still embarrassed. I go on weekends and see friends and constituents and what am I going to say? What I hear is: It's know you council people are all crooks. That's what I hear," said Councilman Kelly Downard, (R) Council District 16.

Democrats and Republicans have their own ideas on how to fix the issues.

Councilman Jerry Miller, (R) Council District 19, is chair of the committee.

"There's certainly still a lot of emotion. There's no question about that. Time will heal all wounds and that will be accelerated if we can come to agreement on a number of changes," Miller said.

Councilman Brent Ackerson, who voted to keep Shanklin on the council has also been critical of the process for sweeping changes. On Tuesday, he presented his fellow committee members with a list of proposed changes.
Among them: a tightening of spending NDFs on festivals, parties, along with stricter rules on political hires and council travel expenses.

Each year, each council members is given $75,000 in Neighborhood Development Funds, $100,000 in Capital Infrastructure Funds and $30,000 for office expenses. Council members cannot write blank checks. There is oversight for each account, but members argue there is a need for more and perhaps more stringent rules.

"And that's one of the things that I heard about during this last ethics trial was lack of accountability and signatory power. And that's one of the things that needs to change," Ackerson said.

Republican Kelly Downard claims Ackerson is "grandstanding" and lost political clout among Democrats and Republicans after being one of three swing votes that saved Shanklin from removal.

"Oh sure he's gotten hurt bad. He exonerated Barbara Shanklin. He underestimated what that would do to him," Downard said.

It's that type of infighting that insiders worry could slow down the process for change.

"It's probably going to end up being a good process. But it doesn't feel like it now," Downard said.

The committee meets twice a month and plans many more meetings in the hopes of hammering out some change.


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