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Dispute Over Appointments Pits Council Against Mayor

city Hall
city Hall

A controversy has erupted recently over appointments to some of the city's more than 80 boards and commissions. It's led to sniping between the mayor's office and the Metro Council, with each suggesting the other is falling down on the job.

Some council members want Mayor Greg Fischer to be more proactive in alerting the council of upcoming vacancies. They say they fear that a lack of transparency from the mayor’s office regarding vacancies is leading to some board and commission members serving beyond their term limits.

For its part, Fischer's office said it doesn't have to keep the council in the loop on coming vacancies, and it already has a slate of new appointees awaiting consideration before the city's legislative body. But if the dispute isn't resolved, they could be waiting a lot longer.

Here's what's at stake, according to both sides. (Listen to the segment with council members and the mayor's office in the player above.)

When they serve into an expired term, board members are taking away the opportunity for other residents to get involved -- and potentially violating the law -- said Councilwoman Jessica Green, a Democrat who represents District 1.

Green is the chair of the council's committee on appointments. She said the council hasn't been made aware of upcoming vacancies for years. But it came to a head at a special meeting of the committee last week.

Green said council members discovered more than 200 people serving on boards and commissions who are doing so on expired terms.

"That is absolutely astronomical," she said.

Councilman Kelly Downard, a Republican from District 16, accused the mayor's office of failing to provide the council timely updates on vacancies.

“This thing is so out of control, and we don't know why," he said.

Downard said term limits for boards and commissions are important because they allow a recurring pool of talent to serve.

"New blood, new thought patterns," he said.

Concerns have also been raised in recent months regarding the diversity of the city's various boards and commissions. In December, The Courier-Journal revealed that many of the city's boards fell short of the required diversity levels under state law. Fischer's office disputed that characterization.

“There are people who want to serve from West Louisville to Southwest Louisville to the East End, but we have to at least make people feel like they are at the table and that they are an option to even be included," Green said.

She added for some boards and commissions, such as the planning commission -- which hears the city’s controversial development cases, such as the Walmart planned for West Louisville, the biodigesters proposed in Russell and the downtown Omni Hotel -- the mayor loses the authority to appoint a resident 60 days after a term expires.

After the 60-day threshold, the commission itself gains the power to appoint.

"It seems to be a little duplicitous to be like we’re not going to tell the council, and now the planning commission has the ability to appoint themselves," Green said. "We never even have the ability to solicit or find qualified candidates.”

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said there isn't anything inherently wrong with the practice of board or commission members continuing to serve once their terms expire.

“For a lot of these boards, it’s very difficult to get the right mix of people who fulfill the requirements," he said.

On top of that, Poynter said the mayor has no responsibility to alert the council of upcoming vacancies. Poynter said the council has failed to consider a slate of candidates for boards and commissions presented by Fischer's office.

“We have a whole group of people waiting to be appointed, but the council has not had a meeting, so they bear some of the responsibility as well," he said.

It appears the council is stonewalling while members duke it out with Fischer's office over the appointment process. Downard said if the council fails to gain the cooperation it's seeking from the administration, the committee may halt approving appointments altogether.


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.