State lawmaker files bill to rein in Metro Council spending - WDRB 41 Louisville News

State lawmaker files bill to rein in Louisville Metro Council discretionary spending

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A state lawmaker has pre-filed a bill aimed at making discretionary spending by members of the Louisville Metro Council more transparent.

State Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville said the bill was prompted by revelations of inappropriate spending in the last two years on the part of former Metro Council member Judy Green and current member Barbara Shanklin.

"You wouldn't believe how many phone calls I got on how Green and Shanklin -- how that money was spent," Burch said Monday.

Under Burch's bill, Metro Council members would have to specify the purpose of each discretionary expense in the city's annual budget or by an amendment to the budget. The bill was pre-filed Sept. 12 for the upcoming 2014 session of the General Assembly.

Spokesmen for the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the Metro Council questioned whether the bill would have much practical effect.

Discretionary expenses over $5,000 are already subject to approval by the full council in an ordinance, which is technically an amendment to the city budget, said Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council's majority Democratic caucus.

Expenses less than $5,000 need to be approved only by the council's appropriations committee, said Hyatt and Steve Haag, director of the council's Republican caucus.

"It doesn't sound like, except for those projects under $5,000, it would be that much different," Haag said.

Each of the 26 Metro Council members gets $75,000 a year in neighborhood development funds and $100,000 for capital infrastructure projects, Haag and Hyatt said.

Council members then direct the money to nonprofit groups or public works, like sidewalk repairs, in their districts.

As a lawmaker at the state level, Burch said he doesn't have access to such funds.

"I'd love to have $100,000 to hand out in my district," he said. "I have to put everything in the budget that I want and then I have to fight to make sure they get it done."

Green was removed from the council in 2011 while Shanklin remains on the council despite being found guilty of misconduct earlier this year. Both cases involved the misuse of taxpayer dollars through discretionary funds, in part for the benefit of the members' relatives.

Hyatt said Metro Council Democrats are reviewing changes to discretionary practices around transparency, accountability and the definition of a "family member" – with the goal of implementing reforms by the end of the year.

One change under review would be to remove the $5,000 distinction so that all discretionary expenses need approval by the full council, he said.

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