Louisville Metro Councilman Vitalis Lanshima, who represents District 21, was in Nigeria for the past several weeks, but he said he won’t leave Jefferson County again until his term runs out at the end of this year.
He is running for public office in Nigeria and returned to Louisville Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, he held a press conference to announce he plans to complete his term and to defend himself against allegations that he is not fulfilling his duties.
Lanshima said he needed to go to Nigeria for consultations ahead of his 2019 campaign for a seat in the Nigerian House of Representatives. Previously, he said he would not campaign on the ground in Nigeria before his Metro Council term expired. Lanshima said he had been gone since August, but did not provide a specific date of departure.
“It is very necessary for a representative to be present in their district. If I didn’t have to go to Nigeria, I wouldn’t have,” he said.
Lanshima’s comments came a day after a meeting of the Metro Council government accountability meeting in which Councilwoman Cindi Fowler, of District 14, requested an investigation into the propriety of Lanshima being a voting citizen in another country. She said she was not trying to remove him from office, but questioned whether his voting status would make him ineligible to serve in Metro Council.
Fowler said she is also concerned that, if Lanshima were found to be ineligible to serve in Metro Council, it could affect the legitimacy of votes taken by the body.
Lanshima refuted claims that constituents could not reach him in recent months, and said anyone who called his office or emailed received a response. He also said his cellphone had not been working for some time, but that now it is.
After the press conference, Fowler said she had received complaints from District 21 constituents who could not make contact with Lanshima.
“District 21 constituents have had a rough time in the last year and a half and they should be able to have representation present here in the States, working for them,” she said, alluding to troubles with the district’s previous Councilman.
In a special meeting Wednesday evening, Lanshima defended his Council service. He also he would be happy to provide any documents the committee or its legal representatives would need to determine whether he is a qualified voter, which is a requirement for serving in public office in Kentucky. Fowler chose to table the order to investigate Lanshima as other Council members questioned the value of an investigation and noted the absence of necessary documents.
Besides Lanshima’s citizenship, also at issue were the numerous council and committee absences Lanshima racked up while abroad. At Tuesday’s meeting, committee chair Brent Ackerson said Lanshima had missed 20 meetings in recent months. In the Wednesday government accountability meeting, Ackerson clarified that they were all excused absences.
Lanshima was appointed to the District 21 seat in late 2017 by Metro Council members to replace longtime Councilman Dan Johnson, who was removed following sexual harassment allegations. He lost the Democratic primary earlier this year to another former applicant for the District 21 seat, Nicole George.
This post has been updated to reflect the events of Wednesday evening’s government accountability committee meeting.