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Metro Council Group Delays Decision On Dan Johnson

A Louisville Metro Council group is delaying a meeting to decide the fate of beleaguered Councilman Dan Johnson.

Johnson is facing removal from the council just days after a council court voted to allow him to remain in office despite multiple sexual harassment allegations raised against him.

On Monday, a three-person group of council members met after two complaints were filed alleging Johnson reneged on the deal.

But Monday's meeting appeared to be in violation of state law, and the council members acknowledged such after objections were raised by reporters and First Amendment experts.

Jon Fleischaker, a First Amendment attorney, said the group — which must abide by the state's Open Meetings Law — met without giving a 24-hour notice. Without it, any action the group would have taken Monday risked being voided due to the alleged violation, Fleischaker said.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, a member of the three-person group assembled to examine the complaints filed against Johnson, recognized the alleged violation.

"We believe the meeting today was not properly noticed," she told reporters gathered at City Hall. "We were advised we should give a 24-hour notice."

In response, Sexton Smith said the group will reconvene Tuesday afternoon.

The three-person group consists of Sexton Smith, Barbara Shanklin and Rick Blackwell — all Democrats on the Metro Council.

They're charged with examining two complaints filed by council members Angela Leet and Bill Hollander, said Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council's majority Democratic caucus.

Leet alleges Johnson violated an element of the deal that bars Johnson from City Hall except for 20 minutes before, during and after regular council and committee meetings, Hyatt said.

Leet alleges she and others witnessed Johnson remain in City Hall eight minutes longer than he is allowed, according to a report in the Courier-Journal.

Hollander alleges Johnson violated the "spirit and letter of the agreement" when he discussed the accusations against him with local television stations and when he posted on Facebook that he'd "won my battle" with the Metro Council, Hyatt said.

Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He is one of the city's longest serving public officials. But last year he began taking heat for what would become a series of sexual harassment allegations.

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.

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 news 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.

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

Those charges led to his removal trial that was conducted by the council court, at which he struck the deal that allowed him to stay on council.

On Tuesday, the three-person group will convene to examine the complaints against Johnson. If they vote with a two-thirds majority to remove him, Johnson will be forced to resign from the Metro Council, per the agreement.

He will not be able to appeal the decision.

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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