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Councilman Dan Johnson Strikes Deal, Will Remain In Office

A Louisville Metro Council court will allow embattled councilman Dan Johnson to remain in office, despite multiple allegations of misconduct, willful neglect and incapacity.

The court voted Wednesday to accept a deal that limits Johnson's ability to interact with his colleagues and work in City Hall, but does not remove him from office.

"This is, in essence, a guilty plea," said Council President David Yates, who chaired the Metro Council Court.

Johnson was accused earlier this year of sexual harassment by Councilwoman Jessica Green.

Green alleged Johnson groped her as the two huddled for a photo at a press conference at Wyandotte Park in June.

Erin Hinson, an aide for Republican Councilwoman Angela Leet, also alleged Johnson exposed his buttocks to her in a City Hall parking lot.

And last year, Johnson was accused of inappropriate behavior at an event in Austin, Texas sponsored by Greater Louisville Inc. That incident led to Johnson being banned from all events sponsored  thereafter by Greater Louisville Inc.

After a preliminary investigation by the Democratic caucus a bipartisan cadre of council members formed a committee to levy formal charges against Johnson.

The Proceeding

The removal proceeding was expected to last days. But after a multi-hour closed session meeting, the council court emerged with the deal.

Under the provisions, Johnson may only enter City Hall 20 minutes prior, during and following meetings of the Metro Council and council committees. Johnson will be expected to complete all other council-related business from home or via conference call.

He cannot seek reelection next year, which Johnson has already said he doesn't intend to do.

He is barred from participating in any "ceremonial functions outside District 21 where it could be assumed he represents the Metro Council," per the order.

He is also barred from initiating contact with any other Metro Council member, except via phone or email, per the order.

If Johnson violates the stipulations of the deal he could be removed from the council.

"We won't be having another trial, he will be summarily removed," said Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the council's majority Democratic caucus.

Hollander praised the deal, calling it "extraordinary and extremely stringent."

But other council members weren't so pleased with the deal.

"I think the evidence should have been put forth," said councilman Brent Ackerson, a District 26 Democrat.

"This sets a terrible precedent," said Marilyn Parker, a District 15 Republican.

Larger Implications

The decision to not remove Johnson comes as victims of sexual harassment are speaking out across the country - from newsroomsto Hollywood.

Deborah Kent, the attorney for the group that brought the charges against Johnson, pointed this out before the council court voted to allow Johnson to remain.

But Kent said in recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment — including those of Bill O'Reilly and Harvey Weinstein — the accused was removed from his post.

She said allowing Johnson to remain condones Johnson's behavior and called the deal "worthless."

"I'm astonished," she said. "We've accepted the fact that Dan will be Dan."

Councilwoman Jessica Green spoke with reporters following the vote and blasted the decision of her colleagues to allow Johnson to remain on the council.

"You have silenced me," she said.

Johnson is is a Democrat and represents District 21 — which includes the Beechmont, Southside and Iroquois neighborhoods just south of downtown.

He is one of the longest-serving elected officials in Louisville. He is a charter member of the Louisville Metro Council and was elected to the Jefferson County Board of Aldermen in 1992.

Johnson has also received a broad range of support during past elections. State campaign finance recordsshow he's received contributions from several elected officials, including Jefferson County Sheriff John Aubrey, Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator Tony Lindauer, Metro Council members David Yates and Vicki Aubrey Welch and Congressman John Yarmuth, among others.

His current term runs through 2018.

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.

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