The Louisville Metro Council re-elected Democrat Jim King to an unprecedented fourth consecutive term as president on Monday by an unanimous vote.
But King’s fellow Democrats were fractured after the 17-member majority caucus ousted their party leader in a vote mirroring the verdict of Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin’s removal trial.
During his acceptance speech, King outlined a number of accomplishments by the council over the past year including restoring funding for urban services, additional money for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and efforts to re-open Kentucky Kingdom.
The council president also laid out a list of priorities for 2014 such as dealing with a ban on the annexation of small cities under merger set to expire next year, and the Metro Government budget.
King says he also wants city lawmakers to be more involved in a discussion of a local option sales tax being pushed by the mayor’s office in the state legislature.
“I have had discussions with Mayor (Greg Fischer) and stressed that any funding priority decisions involving the local option sales tax must include Metro Council involvement at the very beginning if we are to support the concept,” he said.
King is the first council member to be elected one-year presidency five times and was first elevated to the position in 2008.
While King received his caucuses endorsement, council Democrats had a tense debate that many in City Hall worry could further divide the party racially.
Council Democrats voted 9-7 to replace David James as caucus chair with Vicki Aubrey Welch.
According to James, the challenge was based solely on his vote to keep Shanklin in office during her ethics trial last summer. Ultimately those supporting James were the same members who voted to retain Shanklin last August while Welch received the backing of council Democrats who sought to remove Shanklin from office.
After Democrats voted Dan Johnson as their vice-chair, both James and Welch argued their election as chair was about maintaining a certain level of diversity in the caucus leadership.
James told WFPL Democrats remain the party of inclusion, but said having an all white caucus leaders sends the wrong message.
“It’s the first time in the history of our council that that’s taken place. And I know that was a big concern when we worked on merged government many years ago. So the fear that many people had has come to fruition,” he says.
Other lawmakers noted the similarity in the caucus chair vote to the Shanklin verdict, especially that the council’s black members all voted for James while the white Democrats backed Welch.
But Welch says the lack of an African-American in the position of caucus chair or vice chair doesn’t change their commitment to diversity, and she hopes council Democrats can move forward.
“I’m hoping that they’ll move on,” she says. “I think we need to forget what’s happened in the past. I’m sorry those things were said, but hopefully we’ll move on and have a better year.”
“We’ve always been diverse in our caucus and we always keep in mind the issues of the African-American community. We all have African-Americans in our districts, so I don’t think it will make a difference in the leadership.”
Council Republicans elected Kevin Kramer and Kelly Downard as their chair and vice chair respectively.
Council Clerk Stephen Ott was unanimously re-elected.