U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., addressed final approval of the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project by the federal government.The Federal Highway Administration announced Wednesday it will allow Kentucky and Indiana to charge motorists a fee to use Interstate-65 (Kennedy Bridge) and the two new spans that are schedule to be built.Details on tolling are still being worked out, but Yarmuth sidestepped that portion of the press release and rather focused on looking forward to the first phase.From Yarmuth's office:"This is the final signature needed from the federal government to begin construction of the Bridges Project," Yarmuth said. "I received personal assurances from Transportation Secretary LaHood and President Obama that the federal approval process would be expedited, and they have followed through on those commitments. Nothing else stands in the way of construction, and I look forward to breaking ground on the East End Bridge later this month."Asked about his thoughts on the tolling provision, Yarmuth spokesman Stephen George said the congressman supports the plan to pay for the new infrastructure."It's clear that, without tolling, the two states cannot finance the bridges project," he says." Congressman Yarmuth supports the finance plan."The project is scheduled to begin August 30.
Louisville Metro Councilman David Yates, D-25, is raising ethics concerns about allegations that fellow Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, made an offer to buy the historic Colonial Gardens property in the midst of a city funded feasibility study.The council spent $14,000 to study the economic viability of the Iroquois Park corridor—the southwest Louisville neighborhood that contains the property. Five council members, including Johnson and Yates, contributed to the grant from their Neighborhood Development Funds for the non-profit Southwest Dream Team to commission the feasibility study.In a July 23 letter to Johnson and the county attorney, Yates says constituents have told him that Johnson, who is a real estate agent, is seeking to buy the property and profit from any redevelopment projects."My concern lies with the possible ethical implications of what may appear to be an attempt by you as an elected official to profit from the purchase of said property. Let me be clear, I do not have firsthand knowledge, other than your statement, of any wrong doing; nor am I making any allegations that you acted with malice."When the grant for the study was first announced in April, it was heralded as an effort to give developers insight into how to balance "preservation and economic development."It also touted major improvements in the area such as a new splash park, renovations to the Iroquois Amphitheater and Sunny Hill Pavilion and a newly paved road to the top of the park. Several of those improvements were funded with council discretionary funds, which could be expanded with recommendations of the study.In a telephone interview, Johnson declined to confirm or deny with WFPL that he sought to purchase Colonial Gardens from its current owners, adding there is no documentation that can be applied under state law."A real estate offer is nothing unless it’s written. And I have never made a real estate offer," he says. "I’ve never made any sort of offer whatsoever. And if I did it’s my businesses and I had the right to. And I don’t have to tell you about it."When asked if he made a specific verbal offer to the owners, Johnson refused to comment. However, various sources tell WFPL Johnson admitted to making a verbal offer to buy the historic site."He had made me aware after that fact that he had actually made some sort of offer on the property, but not any details," says Southwest Dream Team President Vince Jarboe. "Again, I don’t know any of the details but he tell me after the fact that he did make some sort of offer at some point in the past."Democratic Caucus Director Elizabeth Hoffman says the two lawmakers had a heated discussion about the allegations last week, and Johnson admitted to making a verbal offer to buy Colonial Gardens."I was a bit taken aback," she says. "Given all of the discussions that we have had about that property as of late it was surprising. Certainly we are just not beginning to understand the dynamics of this situation. We're all concerned about it if there's a problem and we are trying to find that out."The findings of the feasibility study are still incomplete, but lawmakers and Dream Team officials have discussed its process, timeline and preliminary reports. Under the city's ethics ordinance, it is against the law for council members to use their position or information obtained through Metro Government business for personal financial gain.In a July 25 letter, attorney Thomas McAdams, who is representing Johnson, accuses Yates of slander and threatens legal action against him if those accusations continue. He says Yates is misleading city officials, adding council members can buy or sell property as they see fit."Your communication makes the implicit suggestion that if Mr. Johnson did, in fact, make an "offer" oral or otherwise to the owner's (sic) of the Colonial Gardens property, that constitutes some legal or ethical misconduct," he says. "Your limited legal experience should indicate to you that such an offer—if in actuality made—would not constitute either illegal or unethical behavior."
In Kentucky's Third Congressional District race, Republican challenger Brooks Wicker continues to trail Democratic incumbent John Yarmuth by a huge fundraising margin.According to federal election financing records Wicker filed another abysmal fundraising total while Yarmuth increased his contributions. The GOP challenger raised a mere $2,600 during the second quarter compared to $184,000 raised by the Yarmuth campaign.In the first quarter Wicker raised $3,000 while Yarmuth garnered $80,000.Wicker campaign spokesman Josh Weill says the campaign got a late start, but points to fundraising events with Papa John's founder John Schnatter as a sign that things are starting to turn around."We’re never going to out spend John Yarmuth. That’s not going to happen. We don’t need to have more money than he does. We just need to have enough and I feel confident that we will have enough when the time comes,” he says.In the past, Wicker has decried GOP leaders and voters for ignoring his race. But GOP operatives and other sources in the Jefferson County Republican Party have quietly begun questioning if Wicker has enough to mount a credible campaign.The money gap is even wider when looking at the candidates coffers where Yarmuth has a commanding lead with over a half a million in cash on hand compared to a mere $2,100 held by the Wicker campaign.Yarmuth campaign manager Elizabeth Sawyer says they remain focused on the general election no matter the fundraising totals."Right now we are focused on getting our message out there and promoting the congressman's record. We saw the Wicker campaign's second quarter report and we don't know when it will become a race. But we don't want to be caught off guard if it becomes a race," she says. "In a world of Citizens United that could happen at anytime and there's plenty of time left."
Most of Kentucky's elected Democrats will skip this weekend's annual Fancy Farm picnic. As of Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo is the only high profile Democrat scheduled to speak. Stumbo is filling in for the governor, who’s on an economic development trip in Europe. Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson and the four remaining statewide elected Democratic officials are opting not to speak. Abramson has claimed a family event will prevent him from speaking this weekend, while Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen have yet to respond to organizer's request to speak. Treasurer Todd Hollenbach has told organizers he will be on the grounds at the picnic, but is refusing to speak.“People do big things for more than one reason and it’s a big thing to miss the Fancy Farm picnic if you’re the governor or lieutenant governor, so I have to suspect their schedules are driven in part to by a desire to disassociate the Kentucky Democratic Party with the national Democratic Party and President Obama,” says Al Cross, Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Matt Erwin says his party will be well represented at the picnic, even with the notable absences."We're looking forward to building excitement among supporters and building upon our successful 2011," Erwin says.Cross adds that skipping the event is political poison in Western Kentucky, especially with Democrats who want to run for office in the future. And he says Conway and Abramson—who are rumored contenders for governor in 2015—will lose the most by skipping this year's event.“I think that they folks down there expect their Central Kentucky officials to come see them, and they remember when they don’t,” he says.
In a surprise statement, Congressman Geoff Davis, R-Ky., resigned Tuesday.Last December, Davis announced that he would not be seeking re-election for a fifth term in Congress citing a need to spend more time with his family. Today's announcement echoes that sentiment and comes fives months ahead of schedule.In a statement on his website, Davis says he will step down effective immediately and cites family health concerns.Recently, a family health issue has developed that will demand significantly more of my time to assist. As a result, I cannot continue to effectively fulfill my obligations to both my office and my family. Family must and will come first. In the fall, voters in Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District will elect a successor between Democrat Bill Adkins and Republican Thomas Massie.UPDATE: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the following comments regarding Congressman Davis's resignation."Congressman Geoff Davis has been an outstanding representative for the people of Kentucky’s Fourth District and has served his constituents with distinction since 2005. He has accomplished much and has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Kentucky during his tenure. I wish him and his family well as he embarks on his new endeavor."UPDATE II:Republican congressional candidate Thomas Massie released the following statement.My wife, Rhonda, and I admire Congressman Davis' family's commitment to God, family and country and pray for a swift and complete recovery from their family health issue.We sincerely thank Congressman Geoff Davis and his family for their tremendous service to Kentucky's Fourth Congressional district and to our country. His military and political careers exemplify what it means to be a tireless and effective public servant.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is praising a federal judge's ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency infringed on state's rights by setting up water-quality criteria for surface coal mining operations.The decision is considered a victory for the coal industry, which filed one of the four lawsuits against the EPA regulation along with West Virginia and Kentucky. According to EPA officials, the policy was set up to ensure a better system for surface coal-mining permits under the Clean Water Act.From Beshear's office:"Today’s action by the federal court is a victory for coal miners who have seen mines close and their jobs put in jeopardy due, in part, to the actions of the federal EPA.The ruling in U.S. District Court confirms my administration’s long-held position that the federal EPA overreached its authority and essentially halted three dozen pending coal permits in Kentucky – permits that were met with erratic and unpredictable changes in EPA standards. My Energy and Environment Cabinet has worked tirelessly with the EPA to resolve these issues. However, the EPA has turned a deaf ear to our reasoning and, instead, chose to illegally block action on these pending permits. Today, the District Court agreed that the EPA’s actions were wrong.As I have stated time and again, Kentucky can and does mine coal while meeting the legal standards to protect Kentucky’s environment. I urge the EPA to act now to release these permits and allow Kentucky’s coal miners to get back to work."
Louisville businessman and community activist Norris Shelton is vying for the state Senate against Democratic incumbent Gerald Neal in this year's general election.The 75-year-old west Louisville business owner is the founder and president of American Slaves Inc., a non-profit group that is most notable for eschewing the use of the term "African-American" to describe black Americans. Running under the Descendants of American Slaves Party, this is Shelton's first bid for public office despite being an outspoken critic of local leaders for a number of years.Shelton says the decision to run was made by the group and isn't a personal slap against Neal, but he argues the longtime lawmaker hasn't done enough for the district."I don’t know of anything he’s done except collect his salary and ignore his people. If there’s something good that he’s done I’d like to know it," he says.Last year, LEO Weekly profiled Shelton and his activism, which has been as controversial as it is contradictory in some instances. The piece points out that Shelton is a minister who advocates for personal responsibility in West End neighborhoods, but that he is also the owner of Mr. Silk’s Liquors, located in the Russell neighborhood.Political observers could see fireworks in the race given that Shelton and Neal have clashed before and are somewhat personal rivals.From LEO Weekly:"(State Sen.) Gerald Neal, me and him are having a terrible battle,” Shelton says. “It got kind of ugly. He threw me out of his office. Our leaders are Uncle Toms, pure and simple. I wrote the book, ‘Gatekeepers.’ I updated it from Uncle Toms of old to gatekeepers of today.”Sen. Neal tells LEO Weekly he did in fact ask Shelton to leave his office. Prior to that meeting, Neal had agreed to speak at an ASI meeting, but he claims Shelton wanted him to get more involved. Although Neal declined to join the movement, he says the suggestion that he’s not interested in uplifting the black community is insulting, especially since as a youth he was arrested for taking part in civil rights marches.Neal says he has an established record on education and civil rights and welcomes the challenge, but that Shelton will have to let voters know where he stands on various statewide issues now that he's running for office."I think he ought to put his issues on the table," he says. "It doesn't matter to me if it gets negative. I have been out here awhile and I can take it. The question is whether or not he's done anything that he can demonstrate is meaningful or achievable that is important to constituents."
Embattled Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, is seeking additional funding for a neighborhood group at the center of her ethics controversies.The Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association will come before the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday requesting $5,000 from Shanklin's discretionary fund. Grant expenditures over that amount require approval from the committee.A complaint has been filed with the Ethics Commission against Shanklin and a Metro Police investigation has been launched into her office over allegations that funding to the group reportedly went to her relatives, who were members of the non-profit.The city's finance department is also awaiting documentation on $20,000 in total grant funds given to the group in the two previous fiscal years. A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer says if the group misses the August 13 deadline, it could be forced to repay the money or be barred from receiving future allocations.Ruben Pulliam is president of the Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association. He says the latest request is for grass cutting at vacant properties and other program expenses, adding that the community shouldn't be punished for the allegations against Shanklin."Barbara Shanklin is a member of the community, but she’s not the community. She’s an individual. Whatever she’s done or been accused of or could be liable for, we haven’t done anything. But we want our grass cut," he says.The evidence at the center of the ethics complaint are a series of stories by The Courier-Journal that report $14,000 was given to Shanklin's relatives for similar expenses such as catering, renovations and grass cutting.In an internal audit of the council's discretionary spending, Shanklin was mentioned specifically over a conflict of interest in funding the Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association while being a board member. Though her relationship with the group was disclosed on previous grant applications and agreements, the audit found it was not revealed on requests attached to the ordinances appropriating the funds.Shanklin has since stepped down from that post and Pulliam replaced the councilwoman's niece as president of the neighborhood organization earlier this month.Councilman Robin Engel, R-22, who chairs the appropriations committee, says the panel will review the request but that questions for Shanklin may arise given the circumstances.But Pulliam says the request should be granted given that no ethics violation has been made and that the Petersburg-Newburg group is working to remain in compliance with the city's new guidelines."Whatever you do to her, you sort of hurt us and our image too. We’re not doing anything that’s disgraceful or harmful to the community," he says. "The only thing we’ve ever been doing is trying to help this community."Neither Shanklin nor her legislative assistant would comment for this story.
The push to add support for gay marriage to the national Democratic platform this year is unlikely to affect elected officials in Kentucky.Following President Barack Obama's recent statement in support of same-sex marriage, political observers expect the party to change the platform at this year's Democratic convention.When asked about the potential addition to the platform, Kentucky Democratic Party officials say the issue is far from decided nationally, adding that Kentucky voters chose their stance on the issue in 2004, when they approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton says that won't stop Republicans from using the national action against Kentucky Democrats.“This would be something else that they would tie to those particular individuals in trying to show that Democrats in particular and the national platform are out of step with the traditional values of the people in the state of Kentucky,” he says.House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover says he's not surprised by the actions of the national Democrats and will link Kentucky officials to any potential actions."In 2004, the people of this Commonwealth decided overwhelmingly to support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The Democrats most recent action is yet another example of why their policies, from the economy to health coverage to social issues, are not right for Kentucky," Hoover says.However, if the KDP doesn't embrace the change, Clayton expects any attacks to fall flat. “I think that clearly that amendment they can point back and defend that even though the national party itself on some issues may be much more liberal than we are and therefore, that’s not part of how we’ve been running,” he says.
In a BuzzFeed profile piece, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrates the rise of social media and is praising the fall of traditional newspaper outlets.Like most conservatives, McConnell views traditional media outlets as bias against GOP views and he appears somewhat elated about the dwindling print media that once held a stranglehold on political coverage.McConnell says social media allows for ideas to be heard in a more competitive landscape and commented on The Courier-Journal hiring a marketing and sales VP as its publisher earlier this year.From BuzzFeed:McConnell, 70, spoke to BuzzFeed in his office overlooking the National Mall; he had tweeted of his plans for the interview earlier in the day from his iPad.“To the extent that there isn’t media domination like there was in the days NBC, ABC, CBS the New York Times, the Washington Post, particularly since most people on my side of the aisle feel they had a pretty obvious bias … those days are over,” he said. “I kind of like this new environment. I think its much more competitive, much more balanced."(SNIP)McConnell noted that the same disruption roiling the national media landscape has been felt in his home state of Kentucky, and particularly at the Courier-Journal, once the state’s most dominant source of political news. The paper “recently hired a business type guy. With a tech background. Totally a nontraditional type of publisher,” McConnell said, adding that, “the message is pretty clear. They’re trying to figure out how to save the business and position it for the future.”McConnell also gives Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—and his shot at Majority Senate Leader—a '50-50' chance this November.
A Louisville couple is running for President and Vice President of the United States.Dr. Louis Todd House, an anesthesiology doctor, has filed as the presidential candidate. His wife, Suzanne, has filed for the vice presidential slot. Both are running as write-in candidates.There is some dispute as to whether candidates from the same state can share a presidential ticket. But the issue hasn’t been fully vetted in court.In 2000, Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney switched his voter registration from a residence in Texas to one in Wyoming so he could run with George W. Bush that year. The switch was due to a clause in the Twelfth Amendment that says a member of the Electoral College can't vote for someone from the same state. In 2000, that would have cost Bush Texas's electoral votes. Under the same rule, the Houses couldn't receive Kentucky's six Electoral College votes, if they happened to win the state, which is unlikely.Kentucky secretary of state spokeswoman Lynn Zellen says her office’s job is to check signatures, accept a filing fee and check basic information, not to litigate constitutional questions."As long as those items are in place, then the Secretary of State will accept the filing papers and it would be left to an election contest to challenge their eligibility beyond those elements,” she says.The Houses reside in the Highlands neighborhood.So far, three presidential write-in slates, including the Houses, have filed in Kentucky. Zellen says seven write-ins filed in 2008.The other write-in tickets are two men from Washington state and a combination of an Ohio man and Pennslyvania resident.Candidates have until October 29 to file as write-ins in Kentucky.
The Louisville Metro Council’s Government Accountability Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss recommendations from a troubling audit report that found a lack of oversight in discretionary grant spending.Last month, a review of Neighborhood Development Fund grants from the past two fiscal years showed half of the $1.9 million grants awarded during that period lacked proper documentation. It also found inconsistencies and a vague criteria for non-profit groups receiving city funds, including over $6,500 in funds that were spent out of compliance with Metro Government rules.The audit specifically mentioned Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, who faces an ethics complaint after a series of controversies were reported about her office’s discretionary spending.Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, is chairman of the government accountability committee. He says the panel will address the community’s growing concerns about how those grants are approved and monitored, but told WFPL the committee will avoid any mention of the Shanklin case specifically."I think it will be good for the public to hear the recommendations and the findings, and how we are going to begin making the changes in the process to hopefully restore the public’s confidence," he says.Last December, council members tightened rules on discretionary spending after the removal of former Councilwoman Judy Green, but the audit recommends lawmakers taken further steps along with the city's Office of Management and Budget enact a stricter system.Among the dozens of recommendations the internal auditor advises to the finance department are: create a database of all non-profits that receive NDF, a centralized office to administer and monitor grants, reporting standards in the grant agreement and requiring non-profit groups create a separate bank account to deposit taxpayer funds."The purpose of the discussion is not to question individual NDFs, but indeed to make sure the process under which funds are being dispersed is a good process, it’ well-documented and we’re not giving new grants to people who are not in compliance," says Miller.The committee will hear testimony from city Chief Financial Officer Steve Rowland and Internal Auditor Ingram Quick about the report’s recommendations.
A preservationist group is requesting Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer veto a controversial ordinance that allows the Metro Council to overturn a decision made by the Landmarks Commission.After months of debate, the council passed the bill by a 16-7 vote last Thursday that changes the city’s longstanding process to declare historic sites. Introduced by Councilman David Yates, D-25, who said the commission lacked oversight, lawmakers made a number of changes including a provision that allows a majority of council members to challenge a Landmarks Commission decision and begin a review process.Attorney Steve Porter is representing the preservationist group OPEN Louisville, which drafted a letter to Fischer asking him to reject the ordinance.He says the council is violating the state constitution and encroaching upon the mayor’s authority."If this passes and goes into affect without a veto, landmarks is the only local agency that can be overruled by the Metro Council. And I think this is in violation of the Kentucky revised statuette, which set up a separation executive and legislative power," he says.The letter outlines several reasons to reject the law, citing that the new process would allow "backroom politics and agreements" to overrule the landmarks panel's expertise. For months, preservationists lobbied against Yates' proposal, arguing that the process has worked for four decades.Council members have clashed over the bill and at public forums set up to debate the law, residents in opposition to the changes outnumbered supporters by a 6-to-1 margin.A Fischer spokesman says the mayor is taking the ordinance under advisement and has 10 days to make a decision."For Mayor Fischer's own executive powers this goes beyond just the landmarks commission," says Porter. "This sets a very bad precedent. The board of health could make a regulation and the council decides to overrule that or Metro Parks wanted to do something and the council decided to overrule it. They could pass an ordinance saying that they could overrule every department, board and commission in Louisville Metro if this is allowed to stand."The council can overturn a mayoral veto with a super majority vote of 18 council members.Councilman Yates could not be reached for comment.
The Family Foundation of Kentucky is criticizing members of the University of Louisville administration for their response to a controversy surrounding Chick-Fil-A.For weeks, criticism has been leveled at Chick-Fil-A because it’s CEO, Dan Cathy, said recently he believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Cathy and his company are well-known for their Christian beliefs. Notably, Chick-Fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays.But Cathy's comments have upset gay marriage supporters, and boycotts and protests against the fast food chain have become increasingly common.Several U of L officials have joined the boycott. Last week, U of L president James Ramsey and Provost Shirley Willihnganz said they would personally stop visiting Chick-Fil-A and the university is exploring its ability to remove a location from campus.But the Family Foundation is criticizing the move, saying U of L is being intolerant.“If you’re going to go and turn around and ask for taxpayer money for your university when what you’re doing at the university is acting in defiance of the beliefs of most taxpayers than I believe that’s a problem," says foundation policy analyst Martin Cothran, referring to the 2004 vote in favor of a same-sex marriage ban in Kentucky.Cothran is also warning Kentucky’s other public universities to stay out of the controversy.“Well we hope other public universities don’t start engaging in viewpoint discrimination like U of L is right now. I don’t know what the positions of other university officials are, but we would hope they would have a little more sense that than though," he says.Officials at the University of Kentucky say they will continue to honor a five-year contract with Chick-Fil-A before analyzing the company’s future on campus. They did not elaborate on whether the current controversy would drive that decision.