Democratic leaders on the Louisville Metro Council are criticizing an effort from state lawmakers to reconfigure the power structure of the city’s government gives too much control to those outside the city.
A group of Republican state representatives, all from Jefferson or Oldham counties, are pushing an expansive bill that, if approved, would bring a handful of changes to the inner workings of Louisville’s merged city-county government.
Under the proposal, the governor would have the ability to appoint someone to fill vacancies on the council or the seat of the mayor in case of death, resignation or removal. At present, such vacancies are filled via an election among standing Metro Council members.
The proposed bill would also reduce the tenure of future mayors to two consecutive terms from the current three.
Metro Council president David Yates, a Democrat from District 25, said he wasn’t consulted by the bill’s sponsors before they filed it. He’s concerned about some of the proposed changes.
“It’s dangerous for Frankfort to play politics with our local government,” he said.
Specifically, Yates is uneasy about granting the governor power of appointment to fill vacancies of local elected officials. He said Metro Council members — who are vested in neighborhoods, connected to residents and have an understanding of local needs — are fit for the task, which under current law is their responsibility.
“There is some worry about additional control in Frankfort over our local community,” Yates said.
Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s majority Democratic caucus, took a strong stance against the proposed legislation. He issued a statement Wednesday saying the bill would “weaken the voices of Louisville residents” and “strike at bedrock principles of local control.”
Hollander, in his emailed statement, said giving the governor the power of appointment to fill vacancies on the Metro Council or in the mayor’s office would transfer power “from the council to the governor.”
“I talk to people across our community every day and I have never heard anyone, Republican or Democrat, say that they want more Frankfort meddling in our local government,” he said.
The proposal also calls for the hiring of additional staff members for the Metro Council caucuses and would reduce the number of required monthly meetings for the full council, which currently meets twice a month.
Councilman Robin Engel, chair of the council’s minority Republican caucus, said the proposal is an example of “good government.”
He said limiting the required number of council meetings allows members to be more efficient. Beyond that, he said allowing the governor to fill vacancies on the Metro Council ensures Republicans get a fair shot at retaining districts they currently hold.
“Do you really think the 17 majority Democrats downtown would appoint a Republican to fill a Republican’s seat?” he said. “It’s fair play.”
Engel said he’s pleased with the legislation’s call to establish a deputy mayor position within Metro government. He also heavily praised a provision in the proposed legislation that would bring increased rigor to the process of appointing members to city boards and commissions.
Council members have taken issue with the current process, which leaves some seats on local boards and commissions empty while others remain filled well beyond their expiration.
“We have serious concerns,” Engel said. “Our concerns weren’t answered. Well, now they’re going to be answered in Frankfort.”
Engel said he will join colleagues to review the proposal and “some tweaking” is likely.
Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, vice chair of the minority Republican caucus, was en route to Frankfort Wednesday evening to learn more about the bill, she said.
Mayor Greg Fischer told The Courier Journal earlier today the proposed legislation is “unprecedented.”