Democratic Jefferson County Judge-Executive Bryan Mathews is taking on a new public service role—Louisville Metro Council aide.
Mathews, who has served as judge-executive since 2011 and he is seeking re-election this year, started a new job last Monday as a legislative assistant for Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21.
Mathews’ dual roles — a county official also working as a Metro officer — raises a host of questions.
Public records show Mathews doesn’t collect a salary in his elected position from either state or Metro government. He is set to make about $50,000 per year as a council aide.
Mathews had an attorney research the matter. “We received a legal opinion that given the nature of the positions it was okay,” said Mathews.
That legal opinion is under review by the county attorney’s office, according to an office spokeswoman.
This occurs amid scrutiny over a potential conflict of interest for another council member.
Councilman David James has been under fire since the county attorney’s office took issue with his job as a University police officer, saying his two positions are in direct conflict under the state constitution. The council job is a part-time position.
According to city ethics laws, council member aides, like Mathews, are considered Metro officers. A legal opinion by Mathews’ private counsel argued that Mathews can serve as a council aide because the other office he holds—that of county judge-executive—is largely irrelevant.
“Anyone who is elected to this position possesses only a title,” Louisville attorney David Kaplan wrote in the May 23 letter, which was forwarded to the county attorney’s office. “(A)nd if they act at all, it is purely voluntary capacity on their own behalf and not behalf of the public.”
After city and county governments merged in 2003 most of the judge-executives’ powers were stripped and given to the Metro mayor.
There have been calls for its elimination through a state constitutional amendment, but Mathews still sees the role as having some importance.
“Whoever occupies the office capacity can be as engaged as they want, not necessarily in an official capacity,” he said. “I mean, it’s about community service. If you look at the things I’ve done as judge, it’s about representing our people, cleaning parks, community picnics and stuff.”
Read the full letter here:
Two years ago, Mathews was defeated handily when he took on Democratic incumbent Tom Owen in the District 8 primary race.
Council Democrats recently had a public spat over allegations of aides working to defeat incumbent members, which led to changes to their caucus rules. Under those new rules legislative assistants are forbidden to work on any campaign working to defeat a sitting member.
Though Mathews is not required to do so as Johnson’s legislative aide, he said he plans to move into Johnson’s district sometime this year.
Mathews said no deal has been made to replace Johnson, but he added a lot can change over the next four years.
“I just can’t say what will happen. I mean Dan could have a heart attack or something in a year, and then there are all kinds of crazy scenarios,” he said. “As of right now, I’m just focused on being legislative assistant to him. He’s never mentioned to me anything about retiring.”