Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, will keep her job despite a majority of her peers saying that she showed misconduct while performing her public duties. Those council members who supported her removal now say the integrity of the local government has been compromised.
Shanklin’s removal trial challenged whether she showed misconduct or willful neglect by her involvement in an ex-offender program she helped set up and by directing public funds to a neighborhood group she was involved with.
(Related: Past coverage.)
After more than three hours of deliberation the Council Court voted to keep Shanklin, despite 16 of the 20 members saying she showed misconduct or willful neglect. This is because only 13 members said that was enough to remove her from the council and Metro rules say a supermajority—or 14 members—would need to vote for removal.
“This is going to fracture the community,” said Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7. “It’s going to fracture this council and it’s going to be a disgrace and we’re embarrassed and we’re so ashamed of the seven members of what they went through and put this community through that we’re going to have a long time recovering. I am very, very sorry this community has to go through this process.”
Council members David James, D-6, Dan Johnson, D-21, Mary Woolridge, D-3, and Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, said Shanklin neither showed misconduct nor should she be removed. Council members David Tandy, D-4, Brent Ackerson, D-26, and Attica Scott, D-1, said she committed misconduct but not enough to remove her.
Several council members who spoke with news media following the deliberations say they’re calling for an overhaul of the city’s discretionary spending practices—which come from Neighborhood Development Funds—and to the budget processes to make it impossible for the circumstances that led to Shanklin’s removal trial from happening again.
“If that does not happen, I will call on Mayor Greg Fischer to cut NDF funds entirely,” said Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19.
Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12, said most NDF funds are being spent well, but there’s currently an exception to the rule—and council members say that’s what needs to be fixed.
Throughout the trial—which began on July 23—it was shown that Shanklin signed several checks that went to the Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association, a group Shanklin was involved with. In total, PNIA received a total of $75,000 between fiscal years 2010-2012.
Prosecuting attorney David Tachau argued her involvement with the group during that time wasn’t properly disclosed to the Metro Council.
“That was willful misconduct. She knew what she was doing,” Tachau said.
Shanklin’s attorney, Aubrey Williams, contested that claim, saying there was plenty of disclosure and that the council or local officials could have voiced their concern when Shanklin requested approval for the NDF funds, which are to be used by council members for public projects.
“Why in the world would someone who is trying to conceal—as he [Tachau] accused her—putting out there year in and year out your very visible, unabashed involvement in this organization?” Williams said.
The neighborhood organization also demonstrated poor record keeping, which Tachau called “intentional,” but Williams tried painting the group as a grass-roots organization and placed blame on the council, Metro Government and Mayor Greg Fischer for allowing funds to ever reach the group if there was a problem.
Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, says there is a running list of questions and concerns that will be considered to address the issues that led to Shanklin’s trial.
The court’s five African-American members all voted to keep Shanklin, but those who supported her removal were careful not to characterize the vote along race lines. Instead, they pointed to the 18 Council members who supported removal (if you include the five council members who petitioned for her removal but were not part of the court—this includes all Republicans and a majority of Democrats)
“In the first 30 second of Aubrey Williams’ opening statement he played the race card and it was a shame,” Miller said.
The deliberations were private, but council members did say talks were heated at times.
“It did get a little contentious when it got down to the final vote,” Blackwell said. “Some made the argument that the voters ought to decide and that now everything has been aired.”
Councilman James Peden, R-23, said he hopes the decision won’t become personal and says no one should hold a “grudge” as the council’s back to work.
Tachau used his closing statement to tell the 20-member Council Court that any member may be removed even without violating the city’s ethics code. The city’s Ethics Commission recommended the council remove Shanklin following similar proceedings at her ethics hearing earlier this year.
Shanklin was also accused of potentially double-dipping city funds through an upholstery program she helped set up for ex-offenders. She hired Linda Haywood to help run the program and often advanced her money, which Haywood said was paid back in cash. But Tachau used testimony from a former FBI agent to show that bank statements did not match the amount that was owed.
Tachau says the ex-offender program never served a public purpose and during the trial he showed that Shanklin and her relatives were more often the ones signing into the class—though Williams disputed the term “relative” in his arguments.
“All we got here was the Shanklin family and friends plan,” Tachau said.
Tachau called the sign in sheets “phonies” and says that Shanklin chose Haywood and paid her with few requirements.
Williams argued there was nothing in the agreement between Metro Government and the ex-offender program that spelled out who it needed to serve and what limitations the program had.
That was the flaw of Metro Corrections, which also funded the program, Williams said.
“There was excusable neglect. She may have violated technically, some aspects of the ordinance,” he said.