The Louisville Metro Ethics Commission on Thursday dismissed three complaints against Council President Jim King, saying two were untimely and the third lacked probable cause.
The commission adjourned abruptly following an hour-long closed executive session after several community members interrupted proceedings, insisting that they be allowed to speak publicly on the matter.
Janice Rucker, the west Louisville resident and political activist who filed the complaints against King, demanded to address the commission.
“Excuse me? Excuse me?” she said.
The commission ruled her out of order, and the discourse continued.
“You’re out of order, and this is definitely wrong,” Donnie Morris, a citizen who watched the proceedings, told the commission. “And I’m sick and tired of it. I think some people need to look into this commission.”
Late last year, Rucker filed several complaints against King alleging that he violated the city’s ethics code multiple times by using his position on the city council for financial gain.
King is the president of King Southern Bank. He could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday evening. In a 24-page formal response to her complaints, King’s attorney, Jon Fleischaker, said they were untimely and without merit and that they could be considered harassment. The complaints, he wrote, were “made in bad faith and for the sole purpose of harassing a public official” and asked the commission to refer Rucker to the commonwealth’s attorney.
The city’s ethics code instructs the commission to forward false complaints to the commonwealth’s attorney for potential action. Commissioners did not make a motion to do so.
“I always thought that this was the right decision,” Fleischaker said Thursday night. “There was no other decision except to dismiss.”
Deborah Kent, attorney for the commission, declined to comment after the meeting.
King’s formal response to Rucker’s allegations also requested an advisory opinion from the commission about whether council members have an “implied duty” under the ethics code to look into the identities of those 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.”
“Without further clarification,” the response continues, “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 announced at a recent Metro Council meeting that until the ethics commission advises council members on the issue, he would abstain from voting on zoning cases.
The commission did not discuss the advisory opinion before it adjourned.
Rucker was displeased with the commission’s decision. She kept pressing despite being told she couldn’t speak.
“I still have questions that I feel like as a citizen I have the right for them to be answered,” she said. “You didn’t give me time to ask questions. And I still have questions that have not been answered.”
Rucker’s complaints have piqued the interest of FBI agents, two of whom attended the last ethics commission meeting and interviewed Rucker afterwards in private. The FBI’s Louisville office released a statement saying it “does not currently have an open investigation on a specific allegation or individual.”
The next scheduled meeting for the ethics commission is March 20.
Update: King’s Statement
In a statement released Thursday night, King said:
I want to thank the Metro Ethics Commission for their thoughtful consideration regarding the complaints filed by Ms. Rucker. The public has a right to expect integrity and ethical behavior from its public servants and I will continue to demonstrate those qualities as President of the Metro Council.
The complaints filed do not accurately portrayed my role or that of my business interests with respect to zoning matters coming before the Council. After a question raised by an Ethics Commission member in December, 2013, about the duty of a council member to identify potential conflicts of interest led me to request an advisory opinion as to a Council Member’s affirmative duty to identify the names and financial interests of all parties in interest to a zoning case. The Commission has yet to issue such an opinion and until I receive their guidance, I will continue to abstain from voting in zoning matters to avoid a perception or the appearance of a conflict.
This story was reported by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, part of Louisville Public Media.