Politics
1:03 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

Barbara Shanklin Verdict Leads to Leadership Struggle Among Louisville Council Democrats

The controversial ethics trial for Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin has been over for months, but it's still causing infighting among council Democrats.

Councilman David James, D-6, and Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, are vying for caucus chair.
Credit Louisville Metro Council

City lawmakers are meeting Monday afternoon to appoint leadership positions, including council president, party chair and vice-chair.

The 17-member Democratic caucus appears to be split, however, over who will be their party leader due to the verdict that kept Shanklin on the council. And some warn the divide could result in a Republican gaining the council presidency for the first time in six years.

Councilman David James, D-6, was one of the seven members who voted to retain Shanklin, and he is seeking re-election as the majority caucus leader. He is facing stiff opposition from Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, who was one of the members who filed a petition to remove Shankin from office.

"I can only speak to what Councilwoman Welch told me, that she was running because of my decision and vote in the Barbara Shanklin case," says James.

"It seems pretty interesting we haven't moved beyond that or at least some of us haven't moved beyond that. It's disturbing. But the best I can guess is there are some people that are on the council, in particular Councilwoman Welch, who still hold that near and dear to them."

Welch, however, denies that James's vote in the Shanklin trial influenced her decision to run. Rather, she is running to boost her re-election chances.

"We need to put that behind us, and I think that's over with. It's done. She's there and we need to work together instead of being divided," she says. "I was a vice-chair and it's a natural progression to step up to chair. And I'm building my resumse. I have an election next year, and that’s my goal to build my leadership resume for my campaign literature that goes out and that’s the reason that I wanted to be chair this year."

The trial focused on whether Shanklin broke the city's code of ethics due to questionable involvement in an ex-offender program she helped set up and by directing public funds to a neighborhood group she was involved with.

Though a majority of lawmakers found Shanklin showed misconduct or willful neglect, they failed to reach the needed threshold to oust her by one vote. The decision has been the subject of community debate, and many argue it has fractured the council and community trust.

Welch told WFPL she does have the support of many fellow Democrats who voted to expel Shanklin, including Council President Jim King. The verdict split Democrats by a 10-7 vote, which gives Welch a slight edge if lawmakers decide along those lines.

Sources in City Hall say some council Democrats have indicated they're willing to support Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, for president if Welch wins the chair position. Since 2007, council Democrats have voted for president as a caucus first, and maintained their decision when both sides of the aisle decide.

The 9-member GOP caucus would need five Democrats to defect if the minority were to take back the presidency. Fleming says he has been approached about the prospect, but will wait to see how the leadership shuffle plays out in the Democratic caucus.

"David James has talked to me about the possibility of such," he says. "It's really up to him if anything is going to happen. If it's there I'll entertain it, but David and I have talked about quite a few different scenarios."

The council is holding its organizational meeting at Memorial Auditorium located at 970 S. 4th Street this afternoon.

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