After a 30-minute debate, the Louisville Metro Council’s government accountability committee put off a vote asking state lawmakers to give the city’s ethics commission subpoena power.
The non-binding measure had bipartisan support initially with leaders on both sides of the aisle saying it made common sense. But during discussion, Democrats raised concerns that state lawmakers could give the commission too much power and that the council should deliver a more specific proposal.
Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, is chairman of the committee and filed the resolution. He says he was surprised by the decision to table to measure because no council members objected to the matter beforehand, adding Democrats have sent a troubling message.
“The non-partisan metro council of Lexington is supporting passage of a resolution, which urges passage of this. Our partisan council in Louisville seem to have issues and it’s troubling, but we are where we are,” he says.
In its 2011 annual report the commission implored council members to make changes after the ethics trial of the late Councilwoman Judy Green. It warned the lack of subpoena powers remained a serious challenge to its ability to enforce the city’s code of ethics.
Observers have said the inability to compel witnesses to testify means the commission cannot get all the information necessary to make a ruling. During her ethics hearing last November, Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, twice walked out of the proceedings at the instruction of her attorney.
“There could be a perception that’s drawn from us taking this up that it’s a judgment on something else. And I don’t think it’s wise that we’ve been discussing this,” Councilwoman Madonna Flood, D-24, said during the committee meeting, who made the motion to table the matter.
Miller says his resolution won’t influence the Shanklin case, which is expected to have a final ruling in March. The east Louisville Republican hopes the full council will be able pass the measure next week.
“The concerns I heard tonight were not substantive in my view,” he says.
But Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, told fellow committee members city officials should be careful before asking the General Assembly to step in.
“That old adage ‘be careful what you ask for you might just get it’ scares the heck out of me when we’re talking about something like this,” he says. “And it does because of my legal background. The subpoena power is a tremendous amount of authority to invest in an advisory, predominately layman body.”
Any change would require an amendment to state law regarding the authority of local governments, however. Republican State Senator Julie Denton of Louisville told The Courier-Journal’s Sheldon Shafer in January that she plans to introduce the measure in Frankfort, but is uncertain if it will pass.