The chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky has filed a complaint with the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission against Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, citing a series of media reports over the past two months.
It alleges Shanklin violated the Metro Government code of ethics by using her office to benefit herself and her relatives. Earlier this week, the county attorney advised council members to not launch their own investigation into Shaklin's handling of an upholstery program until the city auditor and the Metro Police Public Integrity Unit complete their review.
Common Cause Chairman Richard Beliles says news reports have raised serious questions about Shanklin's decision-making and use of taxpayer dollars that need to be answered, but he isn't seeking her removal from office.
“She has a right to defend herself and to see what proof comes out of the hearings. I hope she's got real good reasons to prove she's done nothing wrong. We're not out to get her, but we are interested in protecting the public interest,” he says. “I'm a lawyer and we can't jump to conclude that somebody is guilty, but I believe that my complaint shows these are issues that should be raised to protect the public.”
Beliles, 78, is a Louisville attorney and a well-known ethics watchdog in state government, who has lobbied that stricter rules be applied in Frankfort. Over the past 15 years, he has filed numerous complaints against state officials including former Gov. Paul Patton and members of the General Assembly.
From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
In 1997, Beliles filed a complaint asking the Legislative Ethics Commission to look into a free five-day trip that Richards took to a Costa Rican resort. The official purpose of the trip, which included a jungle safari, was to study international trade agreements.
Richards' travel was paid for by a non-profit group funded by cigarette maker Phillip Morris, which lobbied the legislature on various matters. Lawmakers cannot accept gifts from lobbyists. Richards denied knowing of Phillip Morris' role in his trip, and he said no one in Costa Rica lobbied him on anything.
The ethics panel sided with Richards and dismissed the complaint.
In a statement, Shanklin says the news stories are untrue and she welcomes the ethics commission to examine the jobs training program.
“All along I have said I have nothing to hide and I look forward to cooperating with the ethics committee as they conduct their investigation into these matters. In the meantime, I have a job to do in the service of my constituents in District 2, and I will continue to serve them to the best of my ability,” she says.
A review of the upholstery program and its spending practices by the city's internal audit has not been released yet. Beliles admits he has no documentation or records from the city to substantiate the complaint beyond news reports, but believes there is a problem in Shanklin's office.
“I believe that my complaint are issues that should be raised to protect the public,” he says. “Remember, these are allegations. I don't have to have absolute proof at this point. We’re not trying to crucify anybody. We’re just trying to make sure the public interest is protected that’s all. And sometimes that requires a good news reporter or sometimes it requires a citizen.”
Last year, two ethics complaints were filed against former Councilwoman Judy Green and the panel recommended her removal from office. The council voted unanimously to oust Green from her seat.