Politics

The president of the Louisville Metro Council said there is little he can do to discipline councilman Dan Johnson for making offensive comments while attending an event in Austin, Texas sponsored by the city’s chamber of commerce.

Johnson, a District 21 Democrat, attended the Greater Louisville Inc. sponsored trip early last month along with a handful of other council members, city officials and dozens of local business and community leaders.

During the trip, he allegedly made inappropriate comments to a GLI staff member and as a result is now banned from attending future events sponsored by the entity that’s focused on local economic growth and job creation.

It’s unclear what exactly Johnson said or did. A spokeswoman for GLI did not provide any details about Johnson’s comments other than to say “unprofessional behavior and comments are never welcome at GLI events.”

David Yates, the Metro Council president, also attended the trip to Austin. He said while Johnson did not offend him personally, “I can see how someone could be offended by his words.”

Yates also declined to offer details about what exactly Johnson did or said to be banned from future GLI sponsored events, citing requests from GLI that the “individual did not want their name nor the issue made public.”

He did admit Johnson is “very apologetic” for his behavior.

But Yates said because there’s been no allegation of criminal wrongdoing and no allegation of Johnson misusing his official capacity, there is not much argument for bringing disciplinary action to the councilman.

In a statement, Johnson said he “was not aware that my words were offensive to anyone” at the time he said them, whatever they were.

“I do apologize if I came across that way,” he said in the statement.

Johnson also said he’d honor the request to forgo attending future events sponsored by Greater Louisville Inc.

WFPL News reached out to more than a dozen people who attended the trip to Austin along with Johnson. Few could recall interacting with the councilman during the three-day event.

Tom Stephens, executive director of the Center for Neighborhoods, said he spoke with Johnson “several times” during the trip. He said the discussions were “business-oriented” and focused on ongoing projects in various neighborhoods.

“Straightforward conversations,” he said.

Johnson announced in September 2015 he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2018. He is among the longest-serving elected officials in Louisville and was part of the initial slate of Metro Council members elected in 2002 after city-county merger. Before that, he’d served on the Louisville Board of Alderman since 1992. He was re-elected to his current seat in 2014.

During an interview last year about his plan to end his run as councilman, Johnson did not rule out a future run for mayor.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.