Jefferson County Judge-Executive Bryan Matthews, a newly hired Louisville Metro Council aide, was fired from a previous job for allegedly using racial epithets about African-Americans.
Democratic Councilman Dan Johnson recently appointed Mathews to be his top legislative aide. Late last year, Mathews was terminated as the executive director of Kling Center, a senior health and wellness center in Old Louisville.
A receptionist for the organization told WFPL that Mathews, who is white, used the N-word repeatedly in front of visitors and staff. The center’s board president, Steve Gahafer, said this was the basis for Mathew’s termination.
Johnson, the longest serving official in city government, has touted Matthews and his skills, while exaggerating the top aide’s resume and professional qualifications.
Throughout most of 2013, Mathews worked as executive director for the non-profit group. The racial slur was allegedly uttered late last year.
“One of the staff heard it, and the staff happened to have a black daughter-in-law and told him she was offended by it, and he used it a couple of more times explaining something,” said Gahafer, board president at Kling.
“I don’t know what he was explaining, but I took him in the office and told him it was not acceptable, that this was 2014 and not 1800.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Mathews vehemently denied ever using the slur, saying he left the center over a “difference of opinion and direction” with the group’s board.
“That is a ridiculous and malicious lie,” Mathews told WFPL before hanging up. “I’ve given more time to this than this nonsense deserves. I hope you understand if I don’t demean myself by taking any of it seriously.”
Three former Kling staff members—Gahafer, receptionist Peggy Owens, and co-director Theresa Carter—alleged Mathews used the racial slur. Only Owens said she heard it first-hand.
Besides those allegations, the board also took issue with Mathews’s work performance, Gahafer said. Mathews’ work on financial reports and grant applications put some of the non-profit’s programs in jeopardy, Gahafer added.
Among the Kling Center’s programs is a service that provides seniors each weekday with nutritious meals. The group also offers a companion meal-delivery service to some residents in the Old Louisville neighborhood.
“We serve very poor seniors and a majority of our clients are African-American,” said Gahafer. Gahafer also alleged that Mathews’ statement to the group, upon his firing, said “I guess y’all let the ghetto win.”
Councilman Johnson declined to be interviewed for this story. In a released statement, Johnson dismissed the accusations against Mathews.
“I have known Bryan Mathews for many years and I am not aware of him using that kind of language towards anyone,” he said. “The past is in the past. I hired him because of his abilities and I am moving forward with the needs of the people of District 21.”
Johnson Defends Hiring
Mathews is running for re-election as county judge-executive this year. The office’s salary and governmental powers were stripped when Jefferson County and Louisville merged in 2002.
Mathews said he is slated to make $50,000 a year as Johnson’s aide.
His predecessor, Briana Morgan, made $5,000 less, according to city records.
Morgan was let go in May after working in the councilman’s office for nearly two years.
“Councilman Johnson offered me the wonderful opportunity to stay part-time for two days a week,” she said. “Obviously, I can’t support myself on two days a week. So it was sort of like a lay off.”
Morgan began working in the District 21 office as an administrative clerk in November 2012 as a pupil of Johnson’s longtime assistant Ray Manley, who retired last fall. When the top office position opened up, Morgan was promoted to legislative aide where she made about $40,000 per year working full-time.
On March 28, Johnson gave Morgan a 12 percent raise, according to city personnel records. Less than two months later, however, she was given a four-day notice to either accept a significant demotion or leave.
“I think he really just wanted to hire Bryan,” said Morgan.
Morgan said she was told that Mathews was an attorney.
Amid the office shuffle, Johnson told constituents that Mathews was more qualified.
“Bryan is an attorney,” Johnson wrote in a posting on the Beechmont Neighborhood Association’s Facebook page. “I think getting him for this position is cheap.”
A Kentucky Bar Association’s database, however, doesn’t list Matthews as a licensed lawyer in the state.
On Thursday, Mathews said he has never attended law school or taken a bar exam. He said he never misled Johnson about his resume or qualifications.
“This has nothing to do with me, you’ll have to ask him about it,” Mathews said.
Johnson’s district encompasses the Beechmont, Iroquois, and Kenwood neighborhoods. Mathews said earlier this week that he intends to move into the district.