A year after an ethics complaint was filed, the Louisville Metro Council Court will hear the case to remove Democrat Barbara Shanklin from office this week.
Shanklin faces charges that she deliberately violated the the city’s code of ethics, which were brought by a 5-member Charging Committee in March.
The councilwoman’s ethics troubles began when news reports pertaining to a $30,000 taxpayer-funded upholstery program for ex-offenders began to surface last year.
City records revealed few former inmates attended the program, which was run through the Metro Corrections department. But sign-up sheets did show Shanklin and many of her relatives did participate.
Attorney Aubrey Williams is representing Shanklin. He says Shanklin and her family had a right to participate in the program because they were residents, but points out no one received any undue advantage or public dollars as a result.
“Barbara Shanklin has not received one dime personally nor has any member of her family received any money that they should not have received, if any, in those programs,” he says.
Still, an ethics panel found earlier this year that Shanklin did use the upholstery program to “secure unwarranted privileges” for herself and her family members.
The charges could be further complicated by upholstery instructor, Linda Haywood, who told police investigators Shanklin often lent her money in advance for services rendered and that she paid the councilwoman in cash.
The police interview makes Haywood a key witness and her under oath comments have been entered into the record despite her being out of town and unable to return to Kentucky due to financial constraints.
Williams has characterized Haywood’s comments to police as “garbage” and disputes her testimony being entered into the record due in part to the inability to cross-examine the prosecution’s witness. According to Williams, he has a telephone conversation between Shanklin and Haywood, where the instructor denies Shanklin ever lending or receiving money from her.
As the case now moves to a jury made up of the remaining 20 council members, it remains unclear if Mayor Greg Fischer will be compelled to testify.
Council President Jim King sits as the chair of the council court and will act as a judge during the proceedings.
In a ruling on whether to grant Williams’ subpoena request for Fischer, King said Shanklin’s defense team need to provide a further explanation as to why the mayor is being called. It was Fischer’s office that halted a taxpayer-funded upholstery program, which Shanklin continued to fund despite questions raised by the administration.
Williams says the mayor needs to explain the decision-making to outline if there was any wrongdoing, adding the council court is trying to give Fischer a pass by not granting the request.
“I think the mayor owes it to this community to explain why he did that,” he says. “What it was, if anything, that he saw that was improper about the program and certainly what he thinks about what my client was doing. And the authority by which he acted?”
The mayor’s general counsel has said they will object to any subpoena.
Shanklin also faces charges that she controlled a hefty amount of public dollars after they were allocated to a neighborhood group in her district.
The Charging Committee alleges that Shanklin improperly used council seat to obtain a $75,000 grant for the Petersburg-Newburg Improvement Association despite being on the group’s board of directors where she signed for several checks for the association.
Records show about $14,000 in grant proceeds went to Shanklin’s relatives for services such as catering, grass cutting and emergency aid work over a seven year period. In many instances the checks were signed by Shanklin, but her defense team argues she stopped the practice once city officials made the councilwoman aware of the potential conflicts of interest.
“They say she exercised control where she should not have, but she did this openly and not knowing that it was improper,” says Williams. “You have numerous checks that she has written and provided copies of those canceled checks to the Office of Management and Budget. Why in the world would this lady just openly do something and send documentation that she knows is wrong?”
The removal trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow (Tuesday) at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall.