The Louisville Metro Council could override Mayor Greg Fischer's veto of contentious changes to the landmarks ordinance this week, but one member says the administration is twisting lawmakers' arms.
The legislation amended several provisions of the four-decade-old law that governs historic site declarations, but Fischer agreed with preservationists that the changes politicized the process and violated the separation of powers between the council and mayor's office.
Since city and county governments merged in 2003, there have been four mayoral vetoes of council measures and lawmakers have never mustered the necessary two-thirds vote to override.
Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, who voted for the landmarks bill, says lawmakers have bipartisan agreement this time and should overturn the mayor's decision in part because Fischer is overstepping his bounds.
“The vote Thursday is not going to be about the ordinance again, it's going to be about overriding a veto. So there are other issues that come into play beyond the merits of the ordinance itself,” he says. “And I'm hoping we end up with the 18 votes that we need. I just think (Fischer's) attempting to usurp some power of the council and I'm not exactly sure why. This is not a major issue for him to pull out the veto power.”
Downard told WFPL that the mayor's office has been lobbying heavily against overriding the veto, and that he's heard lawmakers who may vote to reverse the veto have been urged to miss this week's meeting.
“I would be very disappointed if someone just didn't show up. But I hear that's going to be the tactic from the mayor's office,” says Downard. “That would be the worst type of government there is.”
Asked if the administration is urging lawmakers who might vote to reject Fischer's veto, oayoral spokesman Chris Poynter wouldn’t comment on the political strategy, but says the mayor agrees the landmarks process must be changed, however, the law went too far.
A chief point among lawmakers wanting to change the process was that the Landmarks Commission designates properties that often sit vacant and devalue areas. Councilman David Yates, D-25, who sponsored the bill, argued the council should have oversight that gives residents more input into the panel's decision.
However, preservationists argued the Yates bill gave too much power to developers and would endanger a process that has worked well for the city for over 40 years. In a letter explaining his decision Fischer admitted there were needed changes to the process but has not specified what those should be.
“This is really a decision for each individual council member and we’ll leave it up to them to decide,” says Poynter. “But again we’re very hopeful that we can sustain this veto and then go immediately to work with the Landmarks Commission, Councilman Yates and others to say 'Okay there’s some great ideas that came out of this. Now let’s implement them.'”
The bill passed by a 16-to-7 vote last week, with three members— council members Attica Scott, D-1, Barbara Shanklin, D-2 and Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, not present. If the ordinance's original supporters stick with the bill then the question comes down to if two of those three will back the majority of their colleagues or the mayor.
“At this point, I do not have all the information to make a decision one way or the other,” Shanklin told WFPL in a statement. “I want to take some time to look over everything before I make up my mind.”
Neither Scott or Hamilton responded to our request for comment.
Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, voted against the measure, and has been a vocal critic of Yates's proposal. She says this Thursday’s tally will be close and both her and the mayor's office are lobbying to uphold the veto.
“No question it’s a tight vote and it’s absolutely not a done deal, and I think it is because you have passionate opinions and perspectives on both sides of the issue. Clearly if this had been an easy issue to take up and debate it would have been done a long time ago,” she says.