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Louisville Metro Council request for ethics review of colleague misses mark

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Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini, pictured above, is under scrutiny for a potential conflict of interest tied to a $40 million grant the council gave a powerful group of healthcare executives. He supported the initial grant proposal — and then accepted a consulting job with the group after the council approved the money.

Ethics officials said they were puzzled by a Metro Council resolution asking them to review council member Anthony Piagentini’s involvement in a $40 million grant the council gave a local nonprofit.

Louisville Metro Ethics Commission officials said Wednesday they can’t do anything with a Metro Council resolution asking them to review Council Member Anthony Piagentini’s involvement in a $40 million COVID-19 relief grant allocated to a local nonprofit.

Why?

The request doesn’t fit the legal parameters of what the ethics commission is allowed to do.

The commission met on Wednesday and voted to approve a letter detailing its stance to Metro Council President Markus Winkler.

It boils down to this: Piagentini’s potential conflict of interest happened last year, but the commission cannot issue an opinion on something that’s already happened. And without a formal complaint, the ethics commission lacks authority to review Piagentini’s alleged conflict, said Todd Lewis, the ethics commission’s general counsel.

The council resolution doesn’t count as a formal complaint.

Commission Chair Delores Pregliasco emphasized that the ethics body is willing to look into the Piagentini case and isn’t “trying to dodge anything.”

“We have a process,” she said. “We have to follow the law like everybody else.”

The commission’s response comes nearly a week after council members voted to ask the ethics commission to review Piagentini’s role in the spending measure and issue a formal opinion. The Metro Council members who co-sponsored the measure, Democrats Winkler and Cindi Fowler and Republican Kevin Kramer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The resolution followed a story published by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that revealed the potential conflict of interest.

Last year, Piagentini co-sponsored legislation that would allocate $40 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, a local nonprofit governed by a group of influential healthcare executives, to pay for a workforce development program.

He lauded the proposal to his colleagues, voted to support it in a council budget committee, and then took a job with the company the day after the full council approved the spending plan in December 2022.

Piagentini, a District 19 Republican and chair of the council’s minority Republican caucus, maintains that he did nothing wrong. He asked the ethics commission for an opinion on the matter after he heard KyCIR was inquiring about the potential conflict of interest.

He stressed in a Feb. 14 letter to ethics commission officials obtained by KyCIR that he abstained from the final council vote on the $40 million spending measure, and he also removed himself as co-sponsor moments before that final vote on Dec. 1 last year.

The day after the measure passed, he signed a contract to start a consulting job with the Healthcare CEO Council.

“At no time and in no way did any party … use any language that in any way could be considered a quid pro quo,” he wrote in his letter to the commission earlier this month.

Piagentini claimed in the letter that his work with the Healthcare CEO Council focuses on “finding innovations within healthcare startups” to benefit board members’ companies, aging sector strategies, and consulting on state public policy matters. He stressed he is not a lobbyist for the nonprofit.

He started negotiating the job after the group sent him a non-disclosure agreement once the spending measure passed out of a council budget committee in mid-November. Piagentini declined to tell KyCIR how much the Healthcare CEO Council is paying him. He said his compensation isn’t tied to the organization's federal funding allocation from the city.

Tammy York Day, president and CEO of the Healthcare CEO Council, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

She told council members last year that the $40 million the city allocated her group will help get hundreds of entry-level workers trained for local healthcare companies and fund the construction of an innovation hub in the Russell neighborhood.

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.