Louisville Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, is calling on the government accountability committee to investigate Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, who has been embroiled in a series of scandals.
Since May, Shanklin has faced mounting questions about the use of citys grants from her office, particularly for an upholstery training program for ex-convicts that served no former inmates but that she and her relatives participated in.
The city's internal audit is conducting a review of the jobs program and a report is pending.
It has also been reported that $3,000 in taxpayer money went to Shanklin's family members through funding of the Petersburg-Newburg Neighborhood Association, which she is a board member. Until last year, Shanklin has personally signed checks to the group since 2005.
An audit of council discretionary spending found a lack monitoring in the majority of those grants, but the report called out Shanklin specifically for having a conflict of interest in funding the neighborhood group while being a board member.
Ackerson says he is concerned about the oversight of taxpayer dollars as well as media reports, adding he wants to know the full story behind Shanklin's controversies.
“Controversy such as this do not bode will for government period. There's a lot of questions that are raised about discretionary funds. Negative stories out there that don't talk about everything and don't give government a chance to address those, all they do is create improper conclusions. And I'm a firm believer in discretionary funds and what they can do for an area,” he says.
No one has filed a formal complaint against Shanklin with the Metro Ethics Commission despite suggestions from the Louisville Courier-Journal's editorial board.
Thus far Shanklin has limited her public comments on the matter and declined WFPL's request to comment for this story. But Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt tells WFPL that Shanklin is supportive of Ackerson's request for a public inquiry and looks forward to the investigation.
Ackerson is vice chair of the accountability panel and does not have the authority to set the committee's agenda.
In a statement replying to Ackerson's request, Government Accountability and Ethics Committee Chairman Jerry Miller, R-19, say he is concerned a premature investigation could tamper with the process.
From Miller's office:
“Members of the (Republican) Caucus are focused on hearing all of the facts prior to coming to any conclusions on this matter. That is why we are following legal advice and refraining from making public comments or reaching a conclusion on this matter—just as we did when working through the Judy Green removal process.
The request by Councilman Brent Ackerson, which seems focused on grabbing headlines, if acted upon could potentially prevent the council from being able to participate in a removal process/court, if one is deemed necessary.
The auditor is currently reviewing these matters; we also have a Public Integrity Unit within Metro Government. These people are the professionals who conduct investigations regularly; we should wait for their work to be concluded prior to injecting politics into the situation.
Justice needs to be the top priority. This means giving professional investigators the time they need to do their job and giving Councilwoman Shanklin the opportunity to explain her actions. If Councilman Brent Ackerson wishes to proceed with this, he has the ability to file his own ethics complaint against the councilwoman – otherwise I believe he would be well served, as would every member of the Metro Council, to follow the advice of our counsel and refrain from prejudging this matter.”
The latest story reports that Shanklin continued to fund the upholstery program despite Metro Corrections ending it over a lack of participants. A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer indicated the administration is concerned about the situation and indicated that “city tax dollars are not (being) spent as they’re intended to be.”
Ackerson says the council needs to take a proactive approach instead of waiting for a complaint to be filed.
“There has been nothing done to publicly look into this and it is time that we do look into it. It’s as simple as that,” he says. “I don’t think we’re surpassing or hindering any process. It will allow the truth to come out whatever the truth may be. Let’s get it all out there so we know what’s going on and how we can deal with the situation.”