Calling past efforts to reform discretionary spending practices watered down, Louisville Metro Council Republicans unveiled a series of “sweeping changes” to neighborhood development funds.
The proposals come in the wake of Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin’s expulsion trial. Shanklin avoided removal over charges of alleged misconduct and unethical use of taxpayer money by just one vote.
Among the changes being touted by GOP members are for the majority of discretionary funds to be used on capital projects rather than towards non-profit groups.
Each council members receives $75,000 in Neighborhood Development Funds, $100,000 in Capital Infrastructure Funds and $30,000 for office expenses.
Republicans hold a nine-member minority on the council, but are seeking to cap the neighborhood accounts at $15,000 while allocating the rest for infrastructure needs.
Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, says past efforts to amend spending rules have been ineffective and too slow, adding that GOP lawmakers believe it’s important to act now in order to restore the public’s trust.
“We decided after what happened over these past two weeks to go ahead and make this more permanent, more accountable and more transparent,” he says. “We want to have the strongest confidence that the public has in us as well as making sure that we elevate and solidify the trust has in using taxpayer’s money.”
The changes bar the use of discretionary funds for constituent meals, cash incentives, employee bonuses and other activities. GOP members also propose that discretionary funds should not represent more than 25 percent of a non-profit’s annual budget.
Other amendments expand the definitions of relatives and associates that council members must disclose on the grant disclosure forms that local organizations fill-out before receiving public funds.
It also forbids the transfer of funds from the capital account to the neighborhood funds, and would cease of the practice of city lawmakers putting their names on events paid for by district funding.
“Under this proposal Metro Council members will no longer be able to use neighborhood funds for personal marketing,” says Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11. “We instead will simply ask that any recognition be listed as funding provided by Louisville Metro Council so that there is no perception of council persons using taxpayer funds for self-promotion.”
The fight over discretionary spending has been a long-standing and partisan battle in the council, but the expulsion of the late Judy Green and the near removal of Shanklin has put lawmakers under intense scrutiny.
Still, reactions from Democrats to these latest proposed changes have been mixed.
Councilman David Yates, D-25, who voted to expel Shanklin, said earlier this week he plans to outline a number of amendments to discretionary spending rules.
In a press release earlier in the week, Yates said he would work with Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, on those amendments along with suggestions to change state law regarding the removal of city officials. Details on that legislation have yet to be released, however.
Yates says he agreed with some of the ideas presented by the GOP, but was a bit surprised that Republicans announced their plan so quickly and before discussing the details with Democrats in a bipartisan manner.
“Anytime you take a political forum like this, step out and do a press release saying this is how we feel about it and this is the way it is, I think it disrupts the process,” he says. “Obviously, I’m slowing it down because I want to present an ordinance that will pass not only for sake of easing the public trust but will also make Louisville a better place.”
Miller says the GOP proposals were discussed with a handful of council Democrats before the full announcement on Thursday.
Other Democrats say the Republican proposals essentially cut non-profit grants in favor of infrastructure, but that neighborhood spending is needed in poorer districts.
And like previous debates over council spending practices, many council Democrats argue the GOP is doing nothing more than political grandstanding to take advantage of the recent ethics controversy.
“I truly hope that most of us will not play into Republican hands on this,” says Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, who voted to retain Shanklin. “The Republicans want NDFs gone, and I hope we’re smarter than that.”
The changes are expected to be introduced at the Government Accountability committee meeting next Tuesday.