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Louisville Councilman Dan Johnson Twice Wrote City Hot Checks for Metro Cell Phone

during the Democratic Cucus meeting at Historic City Hall, in Louisville, Ky., on June 19, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken
Eleanor Hasken
during the Democratic Cucus meeting at Historic City Hall, in Louisville, Ky., on June 19, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson wrote the city two bad checks in the past month to pay off costs associated with personal use of his city-issued cell phone.

In a statement released Wednesday, Johnson, D-21, called for a thorough audit of his office accounts to demonstrate that his personal financial problems aren’t impacting his council duties.  He has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, with the filing of two civil lawsuits alleging he has written bad checks for unpaid debts.

The city’s finance department processed two checks from Johnson written as reimbursement for his personal use of the city cell phone, according to documents obtained by WFPL.

In a July 18 memo, the Office of Management & Budget informed the council’s business office that Johnson had written a bad check for $200.

Johnson’s city cell phone account was hit with a $50 bank return fee before he attempted to pay the remaining balance. A month later, he wrote a $300 check that was again returned due to insufficient funds, according to city documents.

Efforts to reach Johnson through a council spokesman were not successful.

Louisville Metro Government has several guidelines for employees and elected officials with city cell phones to follow, including a requirement that the phones be used only for Metro business and other job related duties.

Those who use a Metro cell phone for personal business are required to review their monthly bills and identify personal calls before reimbursing the city at a rate of $.10 per minute.

When Johnson's checks bounced, the finance department paid the bill using the council's business account, Metro chief financial officer Steve Rowland said.

Rowland told WFPL a total debt of $350 in Johnson's cell phone account was paid off with cash late Wednesday. He wasn’t sure if the councilman, who left town on business earlier this week, made the payment personally.

"I have been real poor this summer," Johnson told The Courier-Journal. "I didn't have any money."

Johnson earns $45,074 annually for his role on the council, according to the city's salary database.

Johnson Seeks to Calm Constituent Concerns

As WFPL reported earlier this week, Johnson has been sued by local businessman Gus Goldsmith for failing to pay off an $8,000 loan. Goldsmith claims the total debt is closer to $15,000. Johnson is also facing a civil suit from a jewelry company that claims he wrote a bad check for about $2,600.

In both cases, plaintiffs allege Johnson wrote bad checks that were returned for insufficient funds, according to court documents.

Johnson asked for the audit of his office accounts to battle public perception over the personal financial problems. In a letter dated Wednesday to Council President Jim King, Johnson said he was confident the review would put constituents concerns at ease.

"My constituents know me and largely know that I conduct my office with integrity, however, I want there to be no doubt in the minds of the few,” wrote Johnson, who is vice-chair of the Council Democratic caucus.

"I welcome this examination, and the results will demonstrate that I have faithfully executed the sacred duty of upholding the public trust."

The accounts up for review include the councilman’s $30,000 cost center, $75,000 Neighborhood Development Fund, and $100,000 Capital Infrastructure Fund, said a spokesman for Council Democrats.

Johnson left up to the internal auditor’s office how many years the review will cover, but the examination will not include his city-owned cell phone.

Internal auditor Ingram Quick told WFPL that his office has never been asked by council members or the mayor's office to examine the use of Metro-issued devices.

A community leader in Johnson’s district said Johnson's call for an audit was a good step to win back trust, but there is a growing concern over a string of controversies about their representative’s personal finances and office hirings.

"It doesn’t seem like this stuff goes away and it’s just one thing after another,” said Debbie Thompson, president of the Beechmont Neighborhood Association.

"It’s troubling because when you have a public official, he has a budget and he has monies that he’s in charge of appropriating. When obviously they’re having issues with their own personal finances, it’s troubling they have access to these other funds."

Thompson said Johnson's writing of bad checks to the city doesn’t help rebuild confidence.

"It just raises more questions and more people who are just fed up with him and all these antics," she said.

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