Politics

Update: 3:30 p.m.

Deborah Kent, former attorney for the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission now providing legal counsel for the committee leading the charge to oust Councilman Dan Johnson, called the proceedings “uncharted waters.”

“The council has been authorized by the Kentucky constitution and state law to do what must be done in order to maintain the public’s trust and respect for it’s government,” she said in a briefing with reporters Thursday.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, whose allegations against Johnson sparked the controversy that’s led to the removal process, said “this is not something I take lightly, at all.”

“We had no other option,” she said.

Asked why not let the voters decide if Johnson should remain in office, Councilwoman Angela Leet said council members must maintain a safe work environment.

“There is some liability,” she said. “We must be proactive in ensuring protection of employees within this building as well as constituents in the community.”

Kent, the attorney, said the removal process is the result of “what has played out in the public eye.”

“It’s not a matter of investigating these actions, it’s a matter of how these matters manifested in the public eye and how that reflects on the other members of the council and the entire government,” Kent said.

The allegations against Johnson were first made public in a report by The Courier-Journal. But the five council members on the committee to oust Johnson refused to answer a question about the importance of such reporting in bringing allegations of this nature to the public.

The process ahead is not expected to move quickly. Green said the committee will have up to 60 days to “put together our case,” and then another 60 days will be allotted to schedule a trial.

When asked for comment, Johnson said he was taking a 90-day leave of absence for unspecified medical reasons.

“I am in pain,” Johnson said.

Earlier:

Some local legislators want to kick their colleague out of the Louisville Metro Council.

Five council members on Thursday formed a bipartisan committee to initiate the formal process of removing Dan Johnson from the council.

They’ll hold a briefing with reporters at 3 p.m. to discuss their intentions in more detail, according to a news release issued earlier by the Democratic caucus spokesman.

Johnson has been under fire in recent months after Councilwoman Jessica Green alleged he groped her as the two huddled for a group photo.

Johnson issued an apology, but largely dismissed the sexual harassment allegations and threatened legal action against Green if she continued to discuss the incident.

Democratic council leaders conducted an investigation of the allegations, which they concluded last month by issuing an ultimatum to Johnson — resign or face removal.

Council members are now making good on that promise, it seems.

Council Democrats Jessica Green, S. Brandon Coan and Rick Blackwell have joined Republicans Angela Leet and Robin Engel in forming a charging committee and on Thursday filed a complaint that accuses Johnson of “misconduct, incapacity and willful neglect in the performance of the duties of his office.”

The complaint will be submitted into the council record during the body’s regular meeting Thursday night, said Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the Democratic caucus.

After that, both Johnson and the five-member charging committee will have the opportunity to consult with legal counsel before the process unwinds — which could take weeks, Hyatt said.

To oust Johnson, a two-thirds vote of the full council is required, according to state law. Johnson could appeal the decision in circuit court.

Johnson’s Metro Council district encompasses neighborhoods near Iroquois Park — Beechmont, South Louisville and the Louisville International Airport. He was first elected to public office in Louisville in 1992, when he served on the now defunct Board of Alderman.

He’s long touted his efforts to bring professional basketball to Louisville and build sidewalks in his district.

Last month, Johnson called a news conference where he announced to reporters he’d resign from the Metro Council’s Democratic caucus. Johnson told reporters then he believed he’d been unfairly treated by his Democratic colleagues.

He’s not the first council member to face a formal removal. In 2011, council members voted to remove Judy Green after ruling that she’d mismanaged taxpayer money and committed misconduct. Green, who died in 2015, was the mother of current council member Jessica Green.

Council members also held a vote to remove councilwoman Barbara Shanklin in 2013 following allegations she used an upholstery jobs training program to benefit her relatives. Shanklin was not removed.

Combined, the Green and Shanklin removal proceedings cost more than $210,000, according to a report from The Courier-Journal.

The process to remove Johnson is also expected to come at a cost to taxpayers, said Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s Democratic caucus.

“It’s an expensive process, it’s a time consuming process,” he said.

This story has been updated. 

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.