Election 2020

Metro Council’s 18th District is in eastern Louisville and includes the small city of Hurstbourne.

Two-term Republican incumbent Marilyn Parker is seeking another four years. Her challenger, Mera Kathryn Corlett, won the Democratic primary in June over two other candidates.

Courtesy Marilyn Parker

Parker, 62, is a registered nurse. She lives in Lyndon, one of several suburban cities in the district. The former Tea Party activist was first elected to council in 2012. She serves on three committees: community affairs, health and education; public safety; and parks and sustainability. This spring, Parker self-quarantined after exposure to coronavirus at work. After a week, she announced her symptoms had subsided and she had tested negative for COVID-19. Parker has been endorsed by Kentucky Right to Life, the River City Fraternal Order of Police, state Sen. Julie Raque Adams and suburban mayors including Hurstbourne’s Mary Masick and Jeffersontown’s Bill Dieruf.

Courtesy Mera Corlett

Corlett, 32, also lives in Lyndon. In 2018, she was elected Justice of the Peace for her region, and her four-year term ends in 2022. Corlett is also an artistic associate at Commonwealth Theater Center and Blue Apple Outreach. She was endorsed by Better Schools Kentucky, the Fairness Campaign’s political action committee, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, UAW Local 862, Kentucky’s Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s New Power PAC. She was in the 2020 class of Emerge Kentucky, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office.

Both candidates responded to a questionnaire from WFPL. Below are their responses, some of which have been lightly edited for clarity and length:

What are your ideas for helping residents in your district weather the continued challenges posed by coronavirus, both in terms of health and finances?

Parker: As a registered nurse and now as a member of the Louisville Metro Council, I have focused on listening and serving the people of the district first. As the District 18 councilwoman, I have worked hard to improve communications between the health department and I have challenged regulations that have failed to incorporate sound scientific data. I believe the best thing I can do in my next term is to continue the work of finding efficiencies in government instead of raising taxes, just as I did in last year’s budget. That is why I refused a government pension from day one in office, and why I run one of the most lean and efficient offices in city government. This has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. I will also continue working to make our city safer and more supportive of job creators as well as those working every day to improve their lives and care for their families.

Corlett: As a council member, I will lead by example as I follow the CDC guidelines for proper response to the COVID-19 virus.

I will ensure that nursing facilities, retirement communities, our schools and other places with vulnerable populations have the personal protective equipment needed to meet their needs. One of my primary focuses will be providing information to businesses and organizations about grants and loans available to them.

Investing in the physical aspects of infrastructure is integral for every community, but I believe we must extend our understanding to include social dynamics. Through this more holistic understanding of resource distribution, we can help District 18 thrive and foster a sense of community. One example would be encouraging farmers markets that allow residents to be outside, encouraging healthy eating, and supporting local farmers. We must take time to collect data and contact resources to address the economic impact of the pandemic. This is especially true about the Hurstbourne Parkway corridor. I will engage in conversations with commercial realtors and developers to strategize opportunities for available retail and restaurant spaces. There are folks living in District 18 ZIP codes that were already challenged as evidenced in health outcome data. It will be important to review how the COVID-19 virus may have further complicated their circumstances. It is important to recognize that recent issues may have compounded problems already affecting people in our city. Doing so is the only way we will be comprehensive in planning for our future.

Screenshot via Louisville Metro Council

What, if any, Louisville Metro Police Department budget and policy reforms would you advocate for as a Metro Council member?

Corlett: As the sincere desire to feel safe where one lives is central to all of us, that issue must be a priority for city government. I agree with Metro Council’s decision to ban no-knock warrants and with the move toward having further safeguards in place. These should be a part of a longer strategic process of reviewing policing practices. The level of transparency must be enhanced and a better system for accountability put in place. Having an independent civilian review board is a best-practices approach and is critical to the public trust. I also believe that increasing training on techniques to de-escalate situations is imperative and a preventative measure that keeps both citizens and officers safer.

Louisville should move to implementing proactive policing policies rather than reactive solutions that are more costly and not as effective in reducing crime. Short-term investment in proactive solutions creates long-term savings. Public safety is no different. Community-oriented policing strategies have delivered better results in our peer cities where these policies have been actively implemented and supported. At the same time, we are investing heavily in the ShotSpotter technology, which has led to an increase in service calls but has not led to an increase in arrests or investigations. This program has not been an efficient or effective use of funds to date.

Proactive strategies should include problem-oriented policing that looks at the underlying factors to criminal activity such as the very environment crime thrives in. It employs a range of tactics such as cleaning parks, repairing lighting, and offering after-school programming for youth. Studies have shown that not only does this reduce crime in the areas in which it is implemented, there does not appear to be a rise in crime in areas outside either. It is vital that any changes made be outcome-driven and ultimately sustainable for the future safety of Louisville’s citizens.

Parker:  My first and foremost focus has been on transparency and accountability. This is true with police as well as other Metro departments where the mayor has refused to disclose spending on a variety of matters. In previous budgets I have pushed for the use of ShotSpotter technology and new body cameras for LMPD. I have also helped to increase funding for police training and recruitment, as well as higher recruit pay to help us maintain good talent and bring in qualified new officers. In the current fiscal year, I have also joined a broad bipartisan group of council members seeking additional funding for social services to help de-escalate tensions.

What is the No. 1 issue facing your district, and how do you plan to address it?

Corlett: My first priority must be analyzing and attending to the impacts budget cuts have placed on public safety. Speaking with residents, I found their biggest concerns are rising crime rates and hazardous traffic conditions.

We knew when Metro Council cut funding for crime prevention programs last year there would be negative outcomes. The most obvious effect was a higher crime rate. But our city has also seen increases in our unhoused population, decreases in public health conditions, and lower availability of vital emergency services. Now faced with a pandemic, Louisville has not been as resilient as we hoped. Our short-term cost savings have created long-term financial burdens that will be difficult to navigate without astute oversight.

To respond to traffic issues, we must have better urban planning regarding development in our district. I will bring my experience in partnerships and collaboration to address these issues.

I will promote a complementary, coordinated approach to address the district’s needs and Louisville’s needs. We must review any underlying systems that contribute to disparities in our city. Louisville, presently, is at a crossroads regarding who we are to be. We can choose the status quo or accept the challenge to design a remarkable future. I plan to be part of the change to ensure better years to come.

Parker: Providing a safe community is my top priority. As a nurse, my focus has been to serve the people of this city and that has been my focus since taking office.

As a member of the Metro Council, I challenged the failure of our current administration to enforce the laws of our city and I have pushed for increasing our investment in public safety, not defunding it. Safety also transcends simply law enforcement. Safety is about providing a strong economy, good roads, accessible sidewalks and health regulations that are clear and reasoned. I am proud of my work to increase our paving budget from $3 million to nearly $20 million annually and of my work with suburban cities to fix broken and outdated sidewalks that are obstacles for those with disabilities. I will continue fighting for common sense policies that protect our community and support law and order, while valuing the lives of all our citizens.

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that Marilyn Parker was a Tea Party activist prior to her 2012 Metro Council bid as a Republican.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Editor.