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Metro Council wants to know if Piagentini broke ethics rules

J. Tyler Franklin

An emergency resolution filed Thursday asked the city’s ethics commission to review the behavior of Council Member Anthony Piagentini, who pushed for $40M in grant funding for a nonprofit that was recruiting him for a job and later hired him.

Louisville Metro Council passed an emergency resolution Thursday urging the city’s ethics commission to examine a colleague’s relationship with a nonprofit that received a $40 million COVID-19 relief grant.

The resolution came a day after reporting by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting raised questions about a potential conflict of interest stemming from council member Anthony Piagentini’s ties to the nonprofit, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.

Democrats Cindi Fowler and Markus Winkler filed the measure Thursday before the council’s regular meeting. The resolution asks the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission to review Piagentini’s involvement in an ordinance passed late last year that allocated $40 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the Healthcare CEO Council for a workforce development project in the Russell neighborhood.

Piagentini, a Republican representing District 19, which includes Middletown, co-sponsored the ordinance, urged his colleagues to support it, and voted to advance the plan in a committee meeting. Then the nonprofit gave him a job the day after the full council voted to approve the plan in December.

Piagentini has maintained that he did nothing wrong, noting that he abstained from the final vote before the full council and removed himself as a co-sponsor of the ordinance. But when he did, he didn’t explain to council members that he was negotiating a job with the CEO Council.

At Thursday night's meeting,Fowler said she wanted to assure the public that Metro Council was taking the matter seriously.

“People are going to see [the article] and wonder what we’re doing,” she said.

Metro Council approved the resolution in a 22-0 vote, with two council members voting “present” and two abstaining. One of the council members who abstained from the vote was Piagentini. He said he didn’t think it was appropriate for him to vote on legislation about himself.

The ethics commission is now expected to give a written opinion to Metro Council about whether any of Piagentini’s actions violate the city’s ethics code, which bars council members from using their official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for anyone.

The ethics code defines a conflict of interest as any action, decision or recommendation by a Metro official acting in their official capacity that would benefit the financial or private interests of them or any of their family members.

Metro Council members can be removed by their colleagues from office for “misconduct, incapacity, or willful neglect in the performance of the official duties,” according to the council’s rules. At least five members have to swear under oath that a colleague has engaged in such behavior to initiate removal proceedings.

A two-thirds majority of the 26-member council must vote to oust a member, and anyone removed from the council can appeal to circuit court.

District 11 Council Member Kevin Kramer, a Republican who co-chairs the budget committee, voted in favor of the resolution on Thursday. But Kramer said he doubts the ethics commission will find Piagentini did anything improper.

“Things can be going on that I’m not aware of, but I don’t have any reason to believe that there was anything in here that was inappropriate,” Kramer said. “The sooner we have the ethics folks take a look at this, the sooner we can put this behind us and we can move on.”

In comments leading up to the vote, Piagentini said he had already requested the ethics commission take a look at his actions on Tuesday. That was after a KyCIR reporter started asking questions about the potential conflict of interest.

Piagentini also said he provided the commission with written testimony this week.

“[I’m] looking forward to the results from the ethics commission, complying with their direction and complying with the ethics law moving forward,” he said.

Commission chair Delores Pregliasco did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.
Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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