Metro Louisville

Louisville Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee voted to move forward with a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the downtown jail following six in-custody deaths since late November. The full Council is expected to take a final vote next week.

The resolution, which states Metro Council has lost confidence in jail director Dwayne Clark and his executive leadership team, is sponsored by Council Members David James of District 6, Amy Holton Stewart of District 25 and District 13’s Mark Fox, all Democrats. The resolution’s sponsors also want Mayor Greg Fischer to fire Clark.

Dwayne Clark in front of Metro CouncilRoberto Roldan | wfpl.org

Louisville’s jail director Dwayne Clark is grilled by members of Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee on Dec. 8, 2021.

At Wednesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Democratic District 7 Council Member Paula McCraney said though it’s not the job of Metro Council to manage city personnel, she feels it’s come to that point. She laid the blame for the jail’s troubles with Clark, but also with the mayor.

“I am begging the [Fischer] administration to get it together,” McCraney said. “Let us work together so that no more lives will be lost because of incompetence, or lack of understanding, or lack of care or a lack of leadership.”

In addition to the rash of deaths inside the jail, the union Metro Corrections officers has also highlighted what they see as “dumpster fire” conditions at the facility. The union has been speaking out for months about chronic understaffing, overcrowded dorms and faulty equipment. Its members also passed their own no confidence resolution last year.

At a late January press conference, the trio of council members pushing for the vote said there are currently more than 150 vacancies within Metro Corrections and morale among officers has dropped to “dangerous levels.” 

Holton Stewart also said jail leadership has repeatedly failed to address the smuggling of drugs into the jail, despite Metro Council approving a budget adjustment in December that gave the jail $72,000 to add two drug-sniffing dogs. Holton Stewart, who proposed that funding, said Metro Corrections officials are dragging their feet on getting the dogs.

Metro Council does not have the authority to hire or fire leaders of city departments. The no confidence resolution can only add to the pressure on Fischer to make drastic changes at Metro Corrections.

Republican Council Member Marilyn Parker of District 18 said she was concerned that the resolution is only “symbolic.” Parker questioned whether Fischer would take the vote seriously.

“Is anything going to happen when we pass this resolution or is it just going to be another piece of paper that gets filed away?” she said.

Parker declined to vote in favor of advancing the resolution at the committee meeting, saying she wants to take time to make an educated vote.

District 1 Council Member Jessica Green, a Democrat, expressed a similar concern, saying she tends to shy away from “symbolic legislation.” But Green said she felt she had to vote in favor after the latest in-custody death.

“I have no confidence in [Clark],” Green said. “And if it’s got to be a symbolic stance that we take to let the public know that this is unacceptable, I’m prepared to cast my vote for that today.”

Fischer has not indicated that he is interested in firing Clark or other members of Clark’s leadership team despite the looming vote. Jessica Wethington, Fischer’s spokesperson, said in a statement to WFPL News last week that the resolution is not constructive.

“When Council has worked with us on recent jail improvements, it has been helpful and appreciated,” Wethington said. “Today’s filing, however, is unhelpful and divisive, and an unnecessary distraction from the important efforts Director Clark and his team have been making in this unprecedented time of challenges.”

Metro Council members said they received a letter from Fischer’s Chief of Public Services, Matt Golden, urging them not to push for Clark’s firing.

Louisville Metro and the Corrections union recently reached a deal on a new contract that includes an 8% pay raise and thousands of dollars in retention incentives and premium pandemic pay.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.