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Tue September 18, 2012
Committee to Amend Discretionary Funds Policy
The Louisville Metro Council Accountability and Ethics Committee is voting Tuesday on more changes to the policy that governs the distribution of taxpayer dollars to non-profit groups.
A recent audit found that half of the discretionary grants given out by city lawmakers lacked proper documentation to determine if the funds were being spent properly.
Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, is chairman of the accountability committee and a co-sponsor of the proposal along with Council President Jim King, D-10. He says the amendments being proposed give non-profit groups clear guidelines and should help restore public trust.
"The resolution that we’re going to hear today will start us on the path of restoring public confidence in this process, regardless of what individual council people—including myself—think of the overall process we have to be able to restore confidence that public funds are being used appropriately," says Miller.
The changes will not allow city money to be spent on alcoholic beverages or cash payments, among other ineligible activities that have been reported in the past year and a half.
Last December, lawmakers put in tighter regulations on discretionary spending after the removal of former Councilwoman Judy Green. But the audit recommended council members taken further steps along with the city's Office of Management and Budget. Recently, Mayor Greg Fischer's administration completed a review that found seven organizations were unable to provide documentation of their spending.
Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt says the proposal before the accountability committee has bipartisan support on the council and will likely pass, adding it should give those agencies a clear roadmap.
"It clears up an awful lot of confusion and a lot questions, and I think in some respects it will restore confidence," he says. "But at least it will let the groups know who are going to ask from now and in the future, here is what we expect if we are going to give you these funds."
The council has continued to face scrutiny for its discretionary spending due in part to this year's controversies involving Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, who faces a trial-like hearing in October over six violations to the city's code of ethics. It was reported by The Courier-Journal earlier this year that $14,000 in taxpayer dollars went to Shanklin's relatives for several services including catering, lawn care and renovations.
Shanklin is denying any wrongdoing in the matter.
Among the other changes to the Neighborhood Development Fund policy is a requirement that non-profit groups spend the funds in the time defined by the grant agreement, and that the organizations return all unspent funds to the city.
"That should go without saying but apparently it hasn't in the past," says Miller. "And we’re going to make it very clear because that is our expectation. If you don’t expend the funds in the way that you were approved to use the funds and if you haven’t spent them by the end of the grant term for the reason that you received the grant, then Metro Government expects the money back."