Leet slams Fischer on transparency record

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Republican mayoral candidate Angela Leet targeted Democratic incumbent Mayor Greg Fischer’s transparency record on Thursday, singling out high-profile examples of information being kept from the public.

Leet, who has served on the Metro Council since 2015, spent her first press conference as a candidate for Louisville’s top job criticizing Fischer for redacting invoices related to a police sex-abuse investigation, concealing Kentucky Derby guests lists, failing to release the full incentive plan offered to tech giant Amazon and letting unnamed committees select development deals.

“We are seeing less transparency the longer he’s in office and I’m really here to say on behalf of the taxpayers that enough is enough,” she said.

In a statement issued later Thursday, Fischer campaign spokeswoman Margaret Brosko said transparency is important to the mayor and cited his widely recognized open data initiatives as an example. 

Brosko also sought to rebut Leet's claims about secrecy in economic development, saying that the city's "economic renaissance" is largely the work of Fischer's Louisville Forward agency. And she defended Fischer's decision not to release his Derby guests.

"It would also be ridiculous to share the names of those economic development guests publicly, since it would be like handing Louisville’s prospective business list to our competitor cities who would love to see that list and steal our prospects for job growth," Brosko said.

Speaking and taking questions for about nine minutes at her Hikes Point headquarters, Leet promised an end to what she called “backroom deals and secret government spending.”

“We serve the public. We are the public servant,” she said. “It’s our job to be transparent and keep the role and functions of government in the sunlight.”

Fischer’s administration has come under fire this year for its efforts to keep information private.

Earlier this week, it released heavily redacted invoices from work by former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, whom Fischer hired to investigate allegations of sex abuse in a police youth mentoring program. The bills blacked out key details, such as the names of people Harvey interviewed – including, presumably, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad.

Leet, who said she has seen the full invoices, revealed that Conrad was interviewed at least once and insisted that the only suitable redactions should be for abuse victims.

She also accused Fischer of not telling the council of increases in the cost of Harvey’s contract, which began as a $50,000 order and has climbed to more than $70,000.

And she said the mayor failed to disclose the previous “working relationship” in the administration of former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear of Harvey and Ellen Hesen, Fischer’s chief of staff, whom Harvey has interviewed during the probe.  

Brosko, of the Fischer campaign, reiterated that the mayor called for the independent investigation and is eager to see the final report released. The report was expected to be released last December, but Fischer's office has not said when it will be made public.

"Let's not play politics with this -- the No. 1 priority is getting justice for the victims," Brosko said.

Fischer’s office also has declined to release a list of guests for Kentucky Derby weekend events that reportedly incurred more than $110,000 in public funds. Insider Louisville reported this week that Fischer said it would be “stupid” to disclose who attended.

A spokeswoman for the mayor, Jean Porter, told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that guests’ names are kept secret because “this is the cultivation phase” of business development.

Leet questioned that explanation on Thursday.

“Is it economic development or is this simply a way to secure additional political donations during an election year?” she asked. “Where is the proof that we have gotten anything for our money?”

In pursuing redevelopment deals on city-owned land, the Fischer administration used committees of citizens and city officials to pick proposals for the former Urban Government Center in the Paristown Pointe neighborhood and the Heritage West site at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

Yet the identities of those panels were kept secret until WDRB News challenged the process, ultimately resulting in Attorney General Andy Beshear ruling that the meetings should have been open to the public.

Because neither deal has been completed, records showing how the committees made their recommendations are not yet public.

Even so, in the case of the Paristown Pointe project, the committee’s choice of the Marian Group clashed with what appeared to be a different plan preferred by residents who submitted comments and attended meetings.

Leet appeared to reference that when she said Thursday: “In some cases, the secret group got to decide on the development that goes against what the residents want or even what makes the most sense for our community.”

Louisville failed to land a much larger economic development project – a second North American headquarters for Amazon – but the Fischer administration has kept its incentive proposal private, citing part of the Kentucky Open Records Act that lets “preliminary” proposals be withheld.

In addition, the city has relied on a state position that views a “need for confidentiality” during potential business negotiations, according to documents filed in a lawsuit against Metro government brought by the Courier Journal.

But Leet noted that some other cities have released their incentives packages, and she said taxpayers have a right to know how public funds were to be spent to attract business.

“What is the package? Was it more than what’s already out there in our normal state and local incentives, or were they getting a special deal?” she asked. “Other cities have released what their packages were in order to be transparent, but Fischer won’t.”

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

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Marcus Green joined WDRB News in 2013 after 12 years as a staff writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He reports on transportation, development and local and state government.