Metro Council Votes To Shift Funds From Pension Payments To COVID-19 Relief Thursday, Mar 19 2020 

Despite concerns and dissent from some members, the Louisville Metro Council voted Thursday night to shift $2.7 million previously earmarked for pension payments to make funds available for COVID-19 relief.

Twenty-three members voted yes, two voted no and one — Brent Ackerson (D-26) — voted present.

Ackerson said he opposed the legislation because there is now federal aid on the way and because the city continues to face fiscal problems.

Louisville is facing a rising pension bill that forced lawmakers to cut more than $25 million from this year’s budget. Some of those cuts hit services that helped the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Last year, a pension expert said using surplus funds — such as the ones shifted in this vote — was a smart way to offset the city’s pension bill. City officials project Louisville will have to pay an additional $41 million toward pensions over the next three years.

The outlook for meeting this fiscal year’s pension bill was positive, according to an assessment by the city’s chief financial officer Daniel Frockt earlier this year. But as Ackerson pointed out, the council has not yet had a chance to hear from Frockt about how the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus will affect Louisville’s budget future.

“How much money are we losing from this budget? How far behind are we going to be?” he said. “We’re not the federal government, we can’t just go and borrow an extra billion dollars. We’ve got to balance our budget.”

But the majority of council members came together to pass the ordinance, which would allow Metro’s Office of Resilience & Community Services to reimburse external agency partners that provide food and housing assistance to those affected by coronavirus.

David Yates (D-25) was a sponsor of the ordinance, along with 21 others.

“What gave me confidence is that we are going to piecemeal this out in small increments, so we can decide where it goes and how much to who,” he said. “But it’s only going to be done if necessary.”

He clarified that passage of the ordinance did not mean council would be spending the money, it meant the body would be making it available.

The ordinance states that the money is intended to be used “as a fund of last resort,” to be accessed when other funding sources are insufficient. The money will be distributed as reimbursements evaluated on a weekly basis by a three-person panel comprised of a representative of the mayor, Metro Council president David James (D-6) or someone he designates, and a representative from Metro United Way.

The legislation was fast-tracked this week because it was an emergency ordinance, meaning it was not heard in committee.

Separately, Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday announced a community fund through which households could get $1,000 payments to relieve coronavirus-caused hardship. The One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund had raised $3.6 million from donors and will also be used to give grants to community organizations helping those affected.

Metro Council To Consider Emergency COVID-19 Support Services Fund Wednesday, Mar 18 2020 

The Louisville Metro Council will consider shifting $2.7 million in one-time surplus funds toward support services for those who need financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds were originally selected to offset the city’s pension bill for the next three years. Louisville is facing a steep rise in pension costs for its employees, but council president David James (D-6) said helping residents weather the coronavirus challenge is a more immediate concern.

“We will deal with that next year,” he said. “We have people in immediate need. We have people that are literally panicked, scared and don’t know what to do, and so we need to provide some assistance.”

Economically speaking, the closing of businesses and loss of jobs could hurt those who live paycheck-to-paycheck the most, he said.

The ordinance would establish a COVID-19 Relief Fund administered by the Office of Resilience & Community Services. James said the idea is to provide capital to programs that provide food and housing assistance, which would then use it to help those affected by coronavirus. The ordinance specifically names Community Ministries, Dare to Care, and Neighborhood Place as potential providers. The Office of Resilience will have to assess each individual request on a case-by-case basis.

Relief funds could not be used for overhead, hiring or creating new programs.

James said he hopes the money will bridge the gap while local authorities wait for a federal stimulus package.

Not all council members have expressed support for the plan. After it was announced last week, Anthony Piagentini (R-19) called it a “huge mistake” because he thought there was a lack of information about what kinds of public support are most needed.

Earlier this year, Louisville CFO Daniel Frockt projected a better-than-expected budget outlook due to a non-recurring surplus. That could have helped with this year’s pension bill. But James said that’s not so certain anymore.

“The bottom line is, is that we have citizens in our community that we have got to help…and we just have to find a way to make up for that somehow,” he said.

Council members will consider the emergency ordinance at Thursday’s meeting, which will be fully virtual for the first time. James said the public will be able to watch the meeting remotely through the internet and on TV. He said a handful of council members are in the coronavirus high-risk category, which includes those over 60 or with underlying medical conditions.

Disqualified Metro Council Candidate’s Name To Appear On Primary Ballot, Votes Will Not Count Tuesday, Mar 3 2020 

The Democratic primary ballot for the District 6 Metro Council race will feature two candidates, but officials will only count votes for one.

Judge Charles Cunningham ruled this week that Courtney Lamont Phelps is disqualified as a candidate for this race and this cycle. Incumbent David James, the Council president, sued Phelps, alleging he falsified elements of his filing documents.

While James’ lawyers asked that Phelps’ name be removed from the ballots, Cunningham cited concerns from last week’s hearing that redoing the ballots would be too expensive.

“Therefore, absent evidence that there is zero chance it would not be more expensive and zero chance it would preclude timely preparation and testing of the ballots,” he could not justify granting the James lawyers’ request, he wrote in the order submitted Monday.

Regardless, Jordan Kelch, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Board of Elections, said without a judge’s order to redo ballots, the board would follow state law to provide notice to voters about a disqualified candidate.

He said there would be signs the size of regular sheets of paper prominently displayed in District 6 voting precincts as well as inside individual voting booths.

A similar situation took place in 2016, when a ballot included withdrawn candidates and a disqualified candidate, Kelch said.

“It listed the candidates that had withdrawn. And then at the bottom, it also mentioned the disqualified candidate, and essentially said that no votes will be tabulated or reported for these candidates,” he said.

He said ballots had been sent to the printer, but could not say if they are already printed. He also said he did not think the posting process would be more expensive than redoing the ballots, but could not provide specifics.

The primary ballot for Metro Council District 4 will receive similar treatment for a withdrawn candidate, Dennisha Rivers, who pulled out of the race on Feb. 20.

TARC Investigators For Metro Council Say Sensitivity To Victims Is Priority Tuesday, Feb 25 2020 

TARCWith multiple investigations underway into allegations of sexual misconduct by the former executive director of Louisville’s public transit agency, the lawyer hired by Metro Council said he would treat victims with sensitivity.

Speaking to the Council’s government oversight committee Tuesday, David Beyer a Louisville attorney and former FBI agent said it is important to keep information he uncovers confidential until the time comes to disclose it to the public. He said he does not want to “re-victimize” victims.

“I will be guided by that principle to be very sensitive to the people that we are speaking to,” he said. “That being said, I intend to conduct a very thorough, independent investigation to get to the bottom of what has transpired.”

Ferdinand Risco resigned as the head of TARC earlier this month after allegations that he sexually harassed at least six female employees became public. The Council authorized an investigation into his conduct and hiring last week.

Councilman Bill Hollander (D-9) encouraged Beyer to coordinate with the investigators hired by the County Attorney, who are conducting a separate independent investigation. He said it would not make sense for the two groups to interview the same people separately. A lack of coordination could cause victims to retell their stories repeatedly.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the victims, and I don’t think it’s productive,” Hollander said.

Beyer and Jonathan Ricketts, a Louisville lawyer contracted by the County Attorney’s office to represent the Council in this matter who also spoke at the meeting, said they planned to attend a meeting Wednesday with the other investigators. A representative for the County Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more details about Wednesday’s meetings.

Ricketts said legislators should let Beyer conduct his investigation independently. He said Beyer could contact him or the Council for guidance, if needed.

“What I would not want to see is an investigation that is compromised by, no offense, but you know, whatever the political whims might be at the time,” Ricketts said.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith (D-4) specified what she hoped the Council-commissioned investigation might reveal.

“For me, defining success and the goal of this entire investigation is to find out what procedures are in place and structures in place and where it broke down because it obviously broke down, critically broke down,” she said.

If the investigation finds that the procedures for hiring and vetting high-level employees for the quasi-government agency are different than those for Louisville Metro Government as a whole, the city may be able to guide the agency to change, she said. And if they’re the same, she said they should be examined.

The hearing came the day after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer met with the TARC board and called for actions including establishing an anonymous tip line for employees and reviewing the agency’s finances. Board chair Mary Morrow said in a statement that TARC would adopt those recommendations and consider additional measures.

 

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting. 

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report Friday, Feb 21 2020 

J. Tyler Franklin

Lt. Shannon Lauder speaks with KyCIR reporter Eleanor Klibanoff in November 2019.

Listen to the brand-new episode of Dig in the player above.

A representative from the Louisville Metro Police Department will testify before city lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s process for reviewing and closing rape investigations. 

The Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee has called Lt. Shannon Lauder to answer questions in the wake of KyCIR’s “Prosecution Declined” investigation, which found nearly half of all rape cases reported to LMPD are cleared by “exception,” rather than by arrest. 

In most of those cases, police said an arrest was not possible because the prosecutor declined the case before an arrest was made. KyCIR found that the police were often screening cases with the prosecutor before a thorough investigation had been conducted

Lauder runs the special victims unit, which includes sex crimes investigations. The testimony will come as Louisville’s sex crimes prosecutor is raising new questions about a case featured in KyCIR’s reporting.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, asked Lauder to testify in front of the eight-person committee. She also asked the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s office to send a representative, but has not confirmed whether any prosecutors will attend. 

Councilwoman Jessica Green

Green, a former domestic violence prosecutor with the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said police and prosecutors are sending the wrong message to victims.

“It’s essentially a message of … don’t report, because if you do, and start the process, you’re going to be disappointed,” Green said. “You’re going to be let down, and you’re never going to have your day in court.”

{Listen to Dig, KyCIR’s new investigative podcast}

KyCIR’s investigation found that fewer people report rapes per capita in Louisville than in any of its peer cities. The city’s arrest rate in rape cases in 2017 was only 15 percent, far below the national average. And the cases that did end in an arrest were almost all pled down to a lesser charge. 

Of 194 reported rapes in 2017, four people were convicted of rape, KyCIR’s investigation found. 

The committee meeting is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 601 W Jefferson Street. It is open to the public. 

In Cleared Case, Prosecutor Points Back at Police As Cause

J. Tyler Franklin

Jen Sainato, photographed in Louisville in October.

Jen Sainato plans to drive down from Valparaiso, Indiana, to attend that meeting.

“There needs to be some checks and balances,” she said. “And it seems like that’s what’s happening now.”

Sainato’s case was highlighted in the Prosecution Declined investigation and KyCIR’s podcast, Dig. In January 2018, she told LMPD officers she was raped by a man she’d met at a hotel bar. 

Six officers responded that night, crowding into her hotel room. One asked her repeatedly how much she’d had to drink and later told other officers that they “get these a lot in the hotels” — people drink too much, take someone back to their rooms and then say they got raped.

More than two years later, no arrests have been made. 

Portion of status form from Sainato’s case (click to enlarge)

Instead, LMPD cleared the case by exception last year, using the designation “prosecution declined.” According to the LMPD file, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Kristi Gray had reviewed the case and declined to prosecute the suspect, citing a lack of evidence.

During our reporting, LMPD reopened Sainato’s case after she provided additional medical records documenting injuries she says she sustained during the rape. Last Sainato heard, the police were reviewing the medical records and planned to bring the case back to the prosecutor for another review. 

But as Sainato continued to press for answers, the prosecutor made a startling allegation.

In a phone call with Sainato, a recording of which KyCIR has reviewed, Gray said she never declined to prosecute the case in the first place. 

Gray declined an interview request with KyCIR, but confirmed in an email exchange that she had reviewed the case on two occasions. Both times, she said, she told the police she needed more information to decide how to proceed. 

Gray told KyCIR the last time she reviewed the case was in November 2018, when she told Sgt. Tim Stokes and Detective Lindsey Lynch that she wanted to wait until the DNA tests were complete to screen the case. 

“There was additional information needed before we could decide whether we could proceed with any prosecution,” she wrote. “It was not a decision to decline prosecution.”

But in emails, documents and interviews, LMPD officials tell a different story. 

After the DNA tests came back in May 2019, Stokes emailed Sainato’s attorney. He wrote, “based on this DNA evidence and the investigation, the case was presented to the Commonwealth Attorney for review. The case was thoroughly screened and investigated. At this time, the Commonwealth has declined prosecution.”

He reiterated that in an October 2019 email to Sainato, who had reached out after KyCIR informed her that her case had been cleared by exception. He wrote that the investigation had been “very detailed, broad in scope, and extremely thorough.” He said the entire case file had been presented to the prosecutors after the investigation concluded and, “at this time, prosecution has been declined.”

In an email a few days later, Stokes was even more specific: “In this matter, all available information was presented to the prosecutor.  Victim interviews, scene information, lab reports, surveillance video, body camera video, medical records, witness interviews, and suspect interviews, et al have been included in the file.”

Sainato’s LMPD file also contains a case status form, signed by Lynch, that says Gray screened and declined the case. It is dated October 15, 2019, the same day LMPD responded to KyCIR’s request to review the case file. 

Signature and date on Sainato’s case form

Lynch hung up on a reporter who called her desk phone. An LMPD spokesperson refused to answer questions about when and whether the case was declined, instead directing all questions to Gray’s office.

“I am outraged,” said Sainato. “It just makes you wonder, did [Lynch] never believe me? Or does she just need to get a different job?”

Closed Cases A Concern For Some City Officials

This is just one of the developments that council members will be able to ask Lauder about next Wednesday. 

Several have expressed concerns about KyCIR’s findings. 

“I would be interested in knowing the reason for all of those…closed cases,” said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, a Democrat who represents the downtown district, including the Marriott where Sainato reported a rape. “It appears that victims in Louisville are tending not to receive the justice that is very much deserved.” 

Markus Winkler, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, said he would reserve judgment until he learned more from the police. But he was concerned by many of the numbers cited in the story. 

“I’m not naive enough to think that instances of sex crimes in Jefferson County are disporportionately lower than they would be in other areas,” said Winkler. “Just because it might be difficult to prove doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prosecute these cases.” 

J. Tyler Franklin

Council President David James

Council president David James, a frequent critic of police chief Steve Conrad, agreed with his colleagues. But in this case, he said the blame goes higher than the police or the prosecutors. 

“I think that you all should put some pressure on the mayor,” said James, a former police officer. “He’s the one that hires the police chief. Does he think this is okay?”

Mayor Greg Fischer hired Conrad in 2012 and has stood by the embattled police chief through several no confidence votes and a child sex abuse scandal that put two officers in federal prison.

Laura Ellis / WFPL

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad with Mayor Greg Fischer at a news conference in September 2016.

In a statement issued a few days after the story ran, Fischer said he was “confident LMPD places a priority on getting justice for [rape] victims” as exemplified by “daily officer interactions with victims.” He applauded the department’s pursuit of grant funding for domestic violence and human trafficking initiatives. 

Fischer’s office did not respond to follow-up questions.

Eleanor Klibanoff can be reached at (502) 814.6544 or eklibanoff@kycir.org.

The post LMPD To Testify About Rape Investigations In Wake Of KyCIR Report appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Metro Council Authorizes Investigation Into TARC Sexual Harassment Allegations Thursday, Feb 20 2020 

The Louisville Metro Council will take steps to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment by current and former employees of the Transit Authority of River City against Ferdinand Risco Jr, who resigned as executive director of the agency last week.

The resolutions unanimously approved by Metro Council on Thursday will initiate the legislative body’s investigation into the alleged incidents, and will allow it to retain attorney David Beyer to conduct an outside investigation.

The Jefferson County Attorney has retained law firm Dinsmore & Shohl to perform an outside investigation after being alerted to the issue by the mayor’s office in late January, Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokeswoman Jean Porter said.

Risco allegedly harassed at least six women who worked at TARC through inappropriate in-personal interactions, as well as lewd text and picture messages, and tied professional opportunities to their receptiveness. He first joined the agency in 2017 after working at Atlanta’s public transit agency.

Fischer appointed him executive director last April following the retirement of Barry Barker the previous November. Risco served as interim executive director before taking the role permanently.

Council members including President David James (D-6) and Anthony Piagentini (R-19), who is vice chair of the government oversight committee, called for a full investigation when the allegations became public last week.

At Thursday’s meeting, Piagentini lamented that the past could not be erased for the women, Metro employees, who were allegedly victimized by Risco.

“Part of that victimization is a breakdown of process. It is incumbent upon us to understand the process and fix the process so this is eliminated and this never happens again within this Metro government,” he said.

State law gives Council the authority to investigate officials appointed by the mayor.

The resolution indicates council members will seek to determine TARC’s current processes for protecting employees from sexual harassment and intimidation and to clarify how and why Risco was appointed executive director.

The Council’s Government Oversight and Audit Committee will oversee the investigation, whose results could lead to legislative action and recommendations for changes at TARC. The investigation could open as early as next week when the committee meets.

Keisha Dorsey (D-3) said she hoped what Council learns from the investigation will help prevent similar incidents in the future.

“The recommendations or the lessons learned coming out of this investigation really need to be applied across all government agencies and all quasi agencies so that we use this as a springboard,” she said.

Last Thursday, Fischer’s office named two women, Laura Douglas and Margaret Handmaker, to serve as interim executive directors of TARC.

Council Approves Contracts For Six City-Owned Golf Courses Thursday, Feb 6 2020 

Louisville’s publicly-owned golf courses are all staying open at least for now.

Louisville Metro Council approved the six golf management contracts negotiated by Metro government during its regular meeting on Thursday. The government originally sought to negotiate contracts for nine public golf courses.

Metro Parks and Recreation will manage the remaining three courses Bobby Nichols, Crescent Hill and Cherokee until the city chooses an outside operator. A tenth golf course, Quail Chase, already has an existing contract which goes through 2024.

The city’s golf courses have struggled to break even in recent years, leading council members to raise greens fees to improve their chances of survival. Some were at risk of being shut down as Louisville enacted budget cuts last year. Further cuts will be possible this year in the face of rising pension costs if lawmakers cannot agree on new tax revenue.

Republican Kevin Kramer of District 11 was one of only two no votes on the contracts resolution. He repeatedly expressed concern that the failure to land contracts for the three outstanding courses puts them at risk.

“If we don’t have a pro in place at those three courses, it doesn’t guarantee their closure, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee their continuing in operation,” Kramer said.

In response, Democrat Bill Hollander of District 9, who represents the area including Crescent Hill Golf Course, pointed out that closing any course would require a majority vote from the council.

“They will open on March 1, the law requires that,” he said. “And the law also requires that they will continue to be in operation unless we vote to close them.”

The contracts reached by the city ensure a 55/45 revenue split between the government and managers based on mutually agreed projections. If those projections are surpassed, the split would drop to 50/50.

In a news release following the vote, Mayor Greg Fischer said he approved of the decision.

“This is a win-win for our city, our employees, our golfers, our pros and the taxpayers,” he said, according to the statement.

The winning contractors are:

  • Patrick Vadden for Charlie Vettiner Golf Course
  • Greg Basham for Iroquois Golf Course
    Tommy Betz for Long Run Golf Course
    Kevin Greenwell for Seneca Golf Course
    The First Tee of Louisville (Youth Golf Coalition Inc.) for Shawnee Golf Course
    Grant Hummel for Sun Valley Golf Course

Also on Thursday, the Council approved a non-binding resolution to transition city operations to clean electricity by 2030. The vote was 15 to 4, with Republicans casting all of the no votes.

Louisville District 6 Council Candidate Faces Legal Challenges Tuesday, Feb 4 2020 

Metro Council candidate Courtney Phelps is facing legal challenges ahead of the Democratic primary in May, when he will be facing David James, the nine-year incumbent who is currently serving his third term as Council president.

Phelps is facing a lawsuit by James challenging his eligibility for office, and is under a temporary restraining order for allegedly harassing a woman over social media. James represents District 6, and Phelps is the only Democrat challenging him in the May 2020 primary.

The lawsuit, filed by James in Jefferson Circuit Court, claims that Phelps does not live at the address listed on his election filing, and that he falsified the required witness signatures.

Phelps could not be reached via phone and email for comment. James declined to comment, deferring to his lawyer and campaign treasurer Todd Lewis.

Incumbent Files Lawsuit Over Phelps’ Filing

Lewis said Friday that the James campaign believed Phelps had falsified his campaign paperwork. He said he felt political candidates have a duty to inform the public about their competitors’ alleged wrongdoing.

“I think David thinks of it as an important part of being a public servant, because it’s serious and it’s inappropriate,” Lewis said. “It is harmful to the voters and the 6th District, it’s harmful to any voter in Jefferson County that somebody … will potentially get on an election ballot after engaging in this kind of misconduct.”

Kentucky statute requires candidates to provide their residence address as well as the signatures of two registered voters of the same party and district on a form that is to be notarized and under oath.

The address on Phelps’ notification and declaration form is 1115 Garvin Place, the site of the New Legacy Reentry Corp, a residential reentry program for male ex-offenders in the 6th District. Although Phelps wasn’t enrolled in the residential reentry program, New Legacy executive director Gisela Nelson said she had let him live there for about four months in late 2019. Nelson said she asked him to leave on Dec. 22 because he was allowing an unauthorized person to stay overnight.

“It endangered the people in our program, as well as the people who leased space from us, as well as everybody else,” Nelson said.

Phelps filed to run for Metro Council on Jan. 10, nearly two weeks after Nelson said he stopped living at New Legacy.

He also listed Deandrae Hughes, a resident at New Legacy, as a registered voter whose signature indicated he believed Phelps was qualified for the District 6 seat. James’ complaint, which was provided to WFPL News by Lewis, alleges that Hughes’ statement and signature, as well as that of another supposed voter, were falsified.

Hughes confirmed to WFPL News on Friday that he did not sign the form, and that Phelps did not ask him to. He said he had not seen Phelps for about a month.

He said he did not believe Phelps was qualified for office.

“I definitely was not going to falsely endorse,” Hughes said. “I just don’t believe in supporting something that I know you’re not ready for.”

WFPL News could not reach the other person listed on the form, which was also provided by Lewis.

James is trying to remove Phelps as a candidate and prevent his name from appearing on the ballot for the primary election on May 19.

According to Lewis, James feels that Phelps’ behavior “deserves to be attacked and appropriately litigated, really on behalf of all the voters of his district, because we’re not talking about a minor difference in qualifications, we’re talking about a series of very serious actions which disregarded the law governing elections.”

Amina Elahi | wfpl.org

Phelps responded to the lawsuit on Facebook in recent days with a number of posts criticizing James, a former police officer, and suggesting the lawsuit was politically motivated.

Temporary Restraining Order For Social Media Posts

The James lawsuit came less than a week after a woman who rents work space at New Legacy took out a temporary interpersonal protective order against Phelps, alleging that he stalked and harassed her through social media. She claimed that in a since-deleted Facebook post, he threatened her life.

Chea K. Woolfolk, a media personality and member of New Legacy’s board, declined to comment for this story, citing safety concerns.

“I am afraid of him and what he is capable of doing,” she wrote in the petition to the court on Jan. 24. “He stalks me through social media constantly.”

On Facebook, Phelps has at least four active pages, where he posts multiple times a day. He is presenting himself to voters as a reverend and lawyer. According to a former professor, Phelps attended law school at the University of Louisville. He is not admitted to the Kentucky bar.

Phelps recently shared a 1,400-word post written in the third person to his campaign’s Facebook page. He presented it as a statement on Woolfolk, her mother and New Legacy, where he was at one time a kitchen manager.

In it, he denied Woolfolk’s allegations and accused her of defamation of character, libel and filing fictitious police reports, among other complaints.

On one of Phelps’ personal Facebook pages, he referred to the woman as an “imbecile, thorn and WHORE,” and posted a meme that read, “close your legs to married men.” On a page for “The Phelps Group,” the same business name as a limited liability corporation Phelps registered with the Kentucky Secretary of State in 2014, she is called a “mentally unstable, ongoing failure.”

The temporary order prohibits any communication between Phelps and the woman, and requires him to stay at least 500 feet away from her at all times. It also prohibits any social media contact.

Since the order was issued last week, Phelps has posted many times mentioning Woolfolk by time or including her pictures, but not tagging her accounts. She said she blocked him on social media.

Woolfolk directly addressed Phelps in at least one Facebook post after blocking him on social media, in which she called him a coward and told him to approach her in person like a man. She did not tag him. It is not clear when she made the post. In another recent post, she indicated she was looking to buy a gun. The posts, which are not visible publicly, were shared by Phelps via screenshots. Their authenticity was confirmed by WFPL News.

It’s unclear whether Phelps’ posts would violate the order prohibiting social media contact, according to Judge Julie Kaelin. Kaelin was not the judge who granted the temporary order and she did not comment on this case specifically, but presides over similar issues. She said every case is different, but an order prohibiting social media contact can cover a wide range of things.

“Social media contact would certainly include private messaging someone, but could also include attempting to get a message to someone via a more public social media post, something that the person with whom they are not supposed to have contact would be intended to see,” Kaelin said.

A hearing to determine whether an interpersonal protective order will be granted is scheduled for Wednesday.

Cozy Relationship Between Simmons College And Council Candidate Raises Legal Questions Friday, Jan 17 2020 

When Jecorey Arthur announced his candidacy for Louisville Metro Council in early December, Simmons College of Kentucky was behind him in more ways than one. The nonprofit Bible college’s logo filled the backdrop where he stood, and the school also supported the campaign by reaching out to media, allowing Arthur to use its sound equipment and streaming the event live on its Facebook page.

After the announcement, Arthur posed for photographs with Kevin Cosby, the school’s influential president and senior pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church. In the photos, sent to media by the college’s public relations director, Cosby smiles brightly with an arm around the candidate’s shoulder.

But experts say their relationship, in the context of Arthur’s political campaign, could run afoul of tax and campaign finance laws. Internal Revenue Service rules prevent religious organizations such as Simmons, which is affiliated with St. Stephen Baptist Church in Louisville’s California neighborhood, from “intervening” in political campaigns. And Kentucky campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from accepting donations directly from corporations, including nonprofits such as Simmons.

With the campaign announcement, Simmons appeared to provide in-kind support to Arthur, a Democrat running to represent District 4. Arthur, who teaches percussion at the college, is also the music education manager at WUOL, which like WFPL is part of Louisville Public Media.

Arthur declined to speak with WFPL and did not respond to questions provided by email.

Other candidates in the crowded District 4 race have noticed Simmons’ support of Arthur. Aletha Fields, a teacher and Democratic candidate, said she felt it was unfair that all candidates didn’t have the opportunity to receive support from one of the state’s two historically-black colleges.

“The value is that Simmons can open doors for people and make accessible full community support,” Fields said.

Amina Elahi | wfpl.org

In front of Simmons College, Kentucky St. is known as Honorary Pastor Kevin W. Cosby Way.

Simmons’ alleged contributions took several forms.

Its public relations director sent out at least three press releases using her college email address alerting media to Arthur’s campaign announcement. The school provided the venue and equipment for that announcement. It livestreamed the event on its Facebook page and promoted Arthur as a candidate both there and on Twitter.

Experts interviewed by WFPL agreed all of those actions amount to in-kind donations.

Jennifer Bird-Pollan, a tax law professor at the University of Kentucky, said the donations were inappropriate because of Simmons’ nonprofit status.

“All of it is prohibited,” she said. “Whether you disclose it or not, it’s prohibited.”

Arthur did not disclose those donations to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The deadline for filing a report for the fourth quarter of 2019 was Jan. 8.

A lawyer for Simmons, Chris Sanders, said the private college’s Administration Building is generally available for free for public announcements and he denied providing anything to Arthur.

“We don’t endorse candidates, and we don’t provide campaign support,” Sanders wrote in an email. “We haven’t made a financial contribution to [Arthur’s] campaign. We also haven’t provided him property use, staff time, equipment use, or any other in-kind support.”

Sanders did not specifically respond to detailed questions from WFPL, including inquiries about whether Arthur paid for the services used for his campaign announcement.

Simmons did not make President Kevin Cosby available for comment.

IRS Violations

Three experts contacted by WFPL said Simmons’ apparent support of Arthur could technically put its tax-exempt status at risk, but this is unlikely because the IRS does not typically take action on these types of infractions.

Marc Owens, former director of the exempt organizations department at the IRS, explained how he would assess the appropriateness of Simmons’ actions. For example, he said he might look more into the photographs of Arthur and Cosby, which could give the impression of the college president endorsing a specific candidate. This would be allowed if Cosby were acting privately. But the photographs in question were taken on Simmons campus and distributed by a college employee highlighting Cosby’s role as the school’s president — a role in which he is not allowed to endorse anyone.

“The question is, are there photographs of the same person with his arm around other candidates or not? You know, I mean, is that the way they deal with candidates?” Owens said.

Amina Elahi | wfpl.org

A tweet regarding Arthur’s campaign from Simmons’ official account.

WFPL has not found any such photos with the other six candidates for District 4. Five of them reached by WFPL said they had not been invited to speak at Simmons, nor offered any services Simmons gave Arthur: public relations, facilities or promotion.

There are six other candidates for District 4, all Democrats: Adam Caperton, Aletha Fields, Darryl Young Jr., Dennisha Rivers, Robert LeVertis Bell and Ron Bolton. The primary election will be on May 19, 2020.

District 4 encompasses Louisville’s central business district as well as parts of the Russell and California neighborhoods, which are predominantly black and low-income. Simmons and St. Stephen are in District 6.

Bell, who was recently endorsed by the Louisville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, was not surprised by Cosby’s endorsement. He said Cosby has a significant interest in that district in particular.

“As a political player in the city, whether he’s a church leader or a Bible college leader, it’s very important to him to have a stake in the government,” he said. “It makes all the sense in the world.”

Former IRS official Marc Owens described Simmons’ efforts for Arthur as “extraordinary.” He said this type of behavior is not what usually happens when a school or religious organization is trying to introduce all qualified candidates to its members.

“It’s almost human nature, if someone is affiliated or friendly with you, to say nice things about them or to, you know, do something helpful for them,” he said. “The problem is that Congress has written a law and that law says that should not happen, at least as far as elections go.”

The Internal Revenue Code strictly prohibits tax-exempt nonprofits from engaging in political campaign activity, a category that includes offenses ranging from endorsing candidates to donating to their campaigns.

Bird-Pollan of the University of Kentucky said Simmons’ categorization with the IRS as a religious organization gives it more cover from enforcement than it would have if it were registered as a university.

While religious organizations aren’t banned from engaging in political speech — for example, saying they oppose abortion — there is a “blanket prohibition” on churches or universities endorsing specific candidates or parties.

Both Arthur and Cosby are members of the American Descendants of Slavery, or ADOS, movement, which Arthur is using as his political platform. Simmons plans to launch an ADOS Center in the near future.

Unlike schools, Bird-Pollan said some churches intentionally engage in “explicit political activity.”

“It’s a little bit of, like, a challenge to the IRS, like, go ahead, come on … and tell us we can’t do this,” she said.

Bird-Pollan said many believe churches and religious organizations could successfully challenge the political intervention rule at the Supreme Court by arguing it is a form of religious expression.

“So rather than challenge the organizations that are engaged in the behavior, (the) government’s sort of looking the other way,” she said.

That means Simmons isn’t likely to be penalized, even though Bird-Pollan said she thinks the school is clearly violating the law.

Chip Watkins, a tax lawyer based in Washington, D.C., said it would be difficult to determine the value of the goods and services provided by Simmons.

And he doesn’t think the resource-strapped IRS would take action, especially considering the relatively low value of what was provided. Take, for example, the emails from public relations director Krystal Goodner using her Simmons email address.

“I would have advised against it,” Watkins said. “Because it does, you know, at least raise an inference that the school is somehow supporting his candidacy.”

The IRS says employees or members of 501(c)3 nonprofits are allowed to participate in political campaigns, as long as their actions are not done in an official capacity. That is why experts said Goodner using a school email address, although it may have been outside of normal work hours, and Cosby being photographed embracing the candidate at the school where he is president are questionable acts in this context.

Although supporting a candidate for political office does technically break IRS rules for maintaining tax exempt-status, Watkins said a more likely penalty would be a 10 percent tax on the amount the school spent. In this case, that wouldn’t be much.

While a significant penalty for Simmons under tax laws might be improbable, the risk to candidate Jecorey Arthur of campaign finance violations is higher.

Campaign Finance Violations

Kentucky statute requires campaigns to make detailed reports to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance regarding “all money, loans, or other things of value, received from any source.” It says incomplete or inaccurate reports could be considered perjury.

“Well, it’s really about disclosure,” said John Steffen, the executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. “The public has a right to know, you know, who their candidates receive contributions from.”

Campaigns are expected to put a fair-market value on the goods or services they receive. So if a candidate receives the use of space and audio-visual equipment for free, the value of renting those items is how much the donation is worth.

There’s a 30-day period in which candidates can return or pay for improper donations without penalty. In Arthur’s case, that period is over.

Steffen said failing to disclose donations could also have consequences. He declined to comment on Arthur’s campaign specifically.

In general, the Registry has a few options for dealing with mis-reporting. Steffen said his agency can conduct investigations, and refer cases of intentional misconduct to the Attorney General for potential criminal action.

But Steffen said most of the infractions his office sees are mistakes or late filings, in which case civil action by his office is more likely.

If KREF finds a corporation has donated to a political candidate, both the corporation and the campaign could be penalized up to $5,000 apiece. That means if there were a formal complaint about contributions from Simmons to Arthur, that could trigger an investigation leading to penalties for both.

Kentucky law also requires candidates to file a letter of intent before accepting contributions or spending on the campaign. Arthur announced his candidacy with Simmons’ help in early December and began soliciting donations online around Jan. 6. He filed a letter of intent with the state on Jan. 8.

Other Risks

Simmons could risk its accreditation if its accrediting body determines the institution broke Kentucky or federal laws.

The school was first accredited by the Association For Biblical Higher Education in 2014. In 2019, the body’s Commission on Accreditation extended its accreditation for one year. That period will expire on Feb. 28. A fact sheet available online indicates that Simmons is in good standing.

A representative for the Association said the organization would not comment on how legal violations might affect Simmons’ accreditation.

According to the Commission’s accreditation standards, institutions must adhere to elements of “institutional integrity,” including “Integrity in financial matters and in compliance with applicable legal and governmental regulations.”

The future of the school’s accreditation and tax-exempt status and of the candidate’s campaign could be clear in the absence of legal intervention by state or federal agencies.

But law professor Bird-Pollan said many questions remain. And the chief one is who is most likely to enforce.

“It does seem like we see more enforcement of election law kinds of things and campaign finance kinds of things than we do of political activity on the part of nonprofits,” she said.

In her view, the party at greatest risk is the candidate who appeared to accept in-kind donations from a nonprofit corporation and failed to disclose them.

Next Page »