LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A legal battle over transparency is set between Louisville Metro Council and Mayor Greg Fischer.
A new lawsuit, filed on behalf of Louisville Metro Government and the mayor against Metro Council, asks a judge to determine if, when and how information and testimony about the city's handling of recent protests can be shared with council members.
The lawsuit was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court on Aug. 10.
Weeks ago, Metro Council's Government Oversight and Audit committee initiated an investigation of the mayor's handling of the Breonna Taylor shooting, the David McAtee shooting and the months of protests that have followed.
During the initial stage of that investigation, council members chose to focus on the response to protests and sought public testimony from Louisville Metro Police Department Interim Chief Robert Schroeder and Public Safety Chief Amy Hess.
On Aug. 3, the two were expected to testify before Louisville Metro Council's Government Oversight and Audit Committee. However, both Schroeder and Hess walked out of the hearing on the advice of attorneys, citing a federal civil rights lawsuit that had been filed by the ACLU the previous week against Metro Government, Fischer, Schroeder and several LMPD officers.
The attorneys argued that testifying before the committee in a public hearing would jeopardize their clients' positions in those lawsuits. Instead, the attorneys said Schroeder and Hess were willing to testify publicly later, or answer the Council's questions immediately behind closed doors in executive session.
Councilman Brent Ackerson, the committee chair, put his foot down.
“We’re not going into executive session. There will be nothing hidden from the public regarding this matter," Ackerson, D-26, told the attorneys and chiefs. "Zero. Plain and simple. So, with that being said, if you’re not going to proceed, there’s the door.”
Minutes later, Schroeder, Hess and their attorneys chose the door.
After Schroeder and Hess left, all of the committee members, with the exception of one, voted to formally subpoena them to compel open testimony.
But the lawsuit filed by the city on Monday seeks clarity from a judge on how the city should proceed. It argues that the Kentucky Open Records Act provides an exception, allowing for testimony to be given in private, executive session when it concerns matters under litigation, though council members have expressed no desire to receive the testimony in private.
"Chief Hess and Chief Schroeder have nothing to hide and remain willing to testify in executive session, or in an open session at a future date when doing so will not adversely impact the (lawsuit filed by the ACLU)," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit goes on to ask that the judge rule that Hess and Schroeder be allowed to testify in private, executive session, about matters that "serve a legitimate legislative purpose."
On Tuesday, Jefferson Circuit Judge Audra Eckerle issued a temporary restraining order effectively blocking the testimony until she can hear arguments at an Aug. 24 hearing.
During a Tuesday night meeting, Anthony Piagentini, the vice chairman of the Oversight and Audit committee, expressed disappointment in Fischer.
"This council has done nothing but try to be open to the public to get the truth out to the public," he said in response to the new lawsuit, which will delay council's investigation. "I'm just incredibly disappointed in this mayor that this is the route that he's chosen to take."
On Twitter, Piagentini called Fischer "an enemy to good government" and wrote, "The Mayor hates transparent government."
The Mayor has sued Metro Council to stop his staff from testifying in open session in front of the Government Oversight Committee. Metro Council is trying to increase transparency, while Fischer fights us. He is an enemy to good government. https://t.co/EjNQBYDcDx— Councilman Anthony Piagentini (@CMPiagentini) August 11, 2020
The mayor, meanwhile, says he wouldn't block council's attempts to explore other topics that wouldn't put the city at greater liability in ongoing lawsuits.
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