Louisville Metro Council President Jim King says a series of ethics complaints alleging he personally profited from his public office should be dismissed.
King’s attorney, in a 24-page formal response obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, says the complaints are untimely and without merit.
The attorney, Jon Fleischaker, claims the complaints lodged by political activist Janice Rucker could be considered harassment and that the matter should be referred to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The city’s ethics code instructs the commission to forward false complaints, those made in bad faith or with actual malice, to the commonwealth’s attorney for potential action.
“It’s something we’re serious about,” Fleischaker said, calling her complaints a “very frivolous effort.”
The ethics complaints are currently being reviewed by the Metro Ethics Commission, which had been scheduled to hear the issue in a public hearing last Thursday. The commission chose to postpone the matter because Rucker had not yet been provided with King’s response to her claims.
Rucker, a west Louisville resident, alleged that King violated the ethics code several times. Among her claims, she alleged King loaned a company money and then voted on zoning changes benefiting that company.
Rucker declined Monday to comment on the response because the case is pending.
In the response, Fleischaker methodically disputes each claim, saying one was premised on a “basic misunderstanding of fact” and another was a “case of mistaken identity.”
It also contends that Rucker did not explain how King, D-10, supposedly profited by voting on a zone change.
“It’s been a matter of public record since it happened,” Fleischaker added. “These complaints should never have been filed.”
King’s response also asks for an advisory opinion from the commission about whether council members have an “implied duty” under the ethics code to look into the identities of the parties with an interest in zoning cases that come before the council.
“As the facts of these complaints demonstrate,” the response reads, “this is an issue with potentially serious consequences for council members and their constituents. At any given meeting, the council could be asked to approve numerous zoning requests, and the information provided to them at the time of the vote often reveals little more than the address of the property in question, its size, and its intended use.”
Sometimes zoning requests involve more than one property as was the case in one of Rucker’s complaints, which involved more than 200 parcels of land spread out over 1,000 acres.
“Without further clarification,” the response reads, “Metro council members may well abstain from consideration of zoning — or other — matters out of fear that they, too, could be subject to meritless ethics complaints in the future.”
King’s response does not become public record until the Metro Ethics Commission rules on the case.
The commission will hold a meeting March 6, which will include determining probable cause in King’s case. If the commission determines that there is probable cause, a hearing will be set.
The matter has garnered the interest of FBI agents, who last week attended the ethics commission meeting and interviewed Rucker afterwards. Rucker said last week that the agents inquired about her complaint against King as well as the basis for her claims.
Several council members told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that they too were interviewed by the FBI. One council member said the FBI asked about King’s business and political dealings. That council member asked to remain anonymous, for fear of political retaliation from colleagues.
King had not been contacted by the FBI. He said he reached out to the agency on Friday. “We were advised that the investigators are conducting a background investigation, educating themselves about aspects of Louisville Metro Government and its practices, policies and procedures,” King said in a statement released by his office.
He declined Monday to comment on the ethics complaint.
The FBI—its stated mission to protect the country against terrorism and enforce federal criminal laws—declined to comment Friday about its basis for interviewing Metro Council members and attending an ethics commission hearing. The agency’s Louisville office released a statement saying it “does not currently have an open investigation on a specific allegation or individual.”
Editor’s note: Attorney Jon Fleischaker has previously conducted legal review for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Fleischaker did not review this article or any other article related to King.
This story was reported by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, part of Louisville Public Media.