LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Two civic leaders who recently quit a board that will guide investment in Louisville’s western neighborhoods say they have concerns about how the group has operated since it was established.
Sadiqa Reynolds, the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, and Christina Shadle, the league’s director of investment, resigned from the West End Opportunity Partnership last weekend. They were among Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s initial appointments to the group that will oversee spending tax revenue in nine neighborhoods.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Reynolds said she left the board after she was told in late August by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where she serves as a Louisville branch director, that holding both positions would be incompatible because the West End board involves spending public funds.
After skipping the West End board’s September meeting, Reynolds said, she resigned during its Oct. 16 session.
“I think there are some really good people who have been appointed to serve on the West End Opportunity Partnership board so far, but the board is not complete,” she said. “And my sense is that there are some things that are being rushed, that we really need to make sure we take time for.”
In one example, she said, board members were asked to approve operating bylaws after only receiving them the night before a meeting. She also questions the “overlap” between the OneWest development corporation and the board, such as the administrator of the West End board having a OneWest email account.
She said input from people living in the surrounding communities needs to be heard.
Shadle said she resigned over a “lack of transparency and the concern about items being rushed.”
Metro Council President David James said the bylaws Reynolds were referring to were temporary and meant to be a placeholder until the rest of the board is appointed. “That was very clear to everybody sitting on the board,” he added.
James said the remainder of the board – representatives from the affected neighborhoods – will be named “as soon as possible.” A board committee is putting together a process of how those members will be chosen, he said.
He also pledged that there will be room for people to weigh in.
"There's going to be a community advisory committee on top of that made up of community members. And on top of that, in each of our meetings, the community gets to come and talk to the board — and we will be having listening sessions throughout the community," he said.
The West End Opportunity Partnership was formed after Kentucky lawmakers approved a taxing district for the Shawnee, Chickasaw, Algonquin, Park Duvalle, Portland, Parkland, Russell, California and Park Hill neighborhoods earlier this year.
The board includes eight appointments by Beshear; one each by Mayor Greg Fischer, the Metro Council, the University of Louisville, and Simmons College; and the nine neighborhood representatives.
The partnership will oversee spending revenues generated by tax increment financing, or TIF, an economic development tool that sets aside a portion of new tax dollars to be re-invested in those areas over 20 years.
TIF is typically proposed for specific projects on underused or vacant property and limited to that parcel. The theory is straightforward: A block of blighted land, for instance, creates little public benefit. But building on it will result in higher property, sales and other taxes. The difference between the taxes generated from the site before and after it’s developed is the “increment.”
The TIF proposed for the western neighborhoods is unique, taking in vast areas already home to residents. Backers of the bipartisan bill that passed the General Assembly argue that the TIF will capture revenue to be invested in the West End.
But some residents oppose the TIF, arguing that it could result in more evictions and worsen gentrification of a historically Black and economically disadvantaged area.
Reynolds said there needs to be additional protection for people who rent homes in the TIF neighborhoods and believes the General Assembly ought to pass additional legislation “as quickly as possible.” That could include, she said, exempting homeowners from higher property taxes and helping renters whose rent rises as a result of higher property valuations.
"There's really not a model in the country where you see this kind of revitalization and investment and you don't see displacement of Black and brown and poor people," Reynolds said. "And with rents going up the way that they are, homelessness going up the way that it is — that just has to be a priority for all of us as we look at something like this."
The Urban League has asked Beshear to replace Shadle with Celine Mutuyemariya as its representative. She is a policy adviser to the league who specializes in housing police, homelessness and eviction prevention.
It’s unclear if the Federal Reserve will keep a member on the board. Nikki R. Lanier, the Louisville branch’s regional executive, did not return a voicemail left on her work phone Thursday evening.
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