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No-Confidence Vote Passes, But Council Gives Mayor Another Chance

Laura Ellis

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has lost the confidence of the city’s Metro Council, but he will get a chance to restore their trust.

In a 22-4 vote Thursday night, the council adopted a resolution that laid out a list of issues they say have eroded communication and partnership between the 26-member legislative body and the mayor’s administration.

Among the issues the council raised are systemic racism, inequality, a lack of transparency from the Mayor, attempts of retribution against whistleblowers, a rising homicide tally, a lack of diversity in city personnel and a failure to hold police leaders accountable.

The vote comes as protests have persisted in Louisville for more than 100 days, in response to the police killing of 26-year-old Black woman Breonna Taylor. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has faced sharp criticism during the protests, and he’s made little public effort to engage protesters or be present in the downtown area during demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism.

The non-binding resolution requires no action of the mayor, but it does lay out a series of steps he can take to mend the broken relationship.

The council wants Fischer to make public all investigative findings related to the killings of Taylor and David McAtee -- who was killed by the National Guard during the early days of protest -- and provide a “public accounting” of all internal police investigations. It also asks him to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the LMPD and finalize the expired police union contract, both by the end of the year.

The council also wants Fischer to hold public press briefings, in person, “to enable unfiltered questioning from the media.”

Additionally, the council wants Fischer to commit to a series of measures that would promote homeownership and wealth building in impoverished and gentrifying areas, and hire a Louisville Metro Ombudsman and Community Relations Director to “address online complaints, work with social and civic organizations, and collaborate with protestors to establish solutions for addressing perceived or actual injustices.”

In a two minute video posted to Twitter shortly after the vote, Fischer said he has sometimes taken the wrong path and at times failed to recognize “where changes needed to be made.”

“As tonight’s vote makes clear, I have not fostered the productive relationship with all of council that is necessary to avoid silos and distractions,” he said. “I apologize for all of this.”

Fischer said “several” of the policy ideas put forth by the council are already underway. The top-to-bottom review of LMPD is underway, investments are being made in affordable housing, and the city is in the process of hiring a new police chief.

“We are all in,” he said. “Let’s come together and seize this moment.”

Council Republicans initially sought the no-confidence vote in an effort to push Fischer into resigning. But Thursday’s resolution stopped short of that. The adopted resolution was sponsored by top council Democrats Markus Winkler, of Anchorage, and David James, of Old Louisville.

“I hope we take this as an opportunity to find a path forward,” said Winkler, who is the Democratic caucus chair.

Some council members criticized the resolution as lacking in accountability measures and deadlines.

“The biggest thing that is missing is ramifications,” said James Peden, a Republican from southern Jefferson County. “There’s no real catch to any of this stuff.”

Winkler countered by saying if Fischer fails to meet the requirements of the resolution the council reserves the right to take further action. It’s unclear what that action would be.

The mayor’s own councilman, District 8 Democrat Brandon Coan, was one of four members to vote against the measure. Coan, who is not seeking reelection, said such a resolution is “unnecessarily divisive and counterproductive.”

“We are in this together, the legislative branch and the executive branch,” he said. “The citizens of Louisville do not see it differently, they will hold us all accountable.” 

But Coan did not offer unwavering support for Fischer.

“My biggest frustration is that the mayor did not fire the police officers that shot and killed Breonna Taylor,” he said. “That’s what animates my concern.”

For some western Louisville council members, the frustrations with Fischer go beyond his response to the summer of protests that have come to shape his final term in office. 

Councilwoman Keisha Dorsey, a Democrat from Shively, said she’s seen little change in her district since she was a child. Now, as a council member, she has to fight with city officials to get grass cut, road signs replaced and sidewalks fixed. 

And councilwoman Donna Purvis, a Democrat from Chickasaw, said her district has struggled for decades with disinvestment and disregard from top city officials.

She said Fischer often comes to west Louisville, and some residents think he is “cool.”

“And I say, if you think he is so cool, then why is it so easy for him to turn his back, and go back downtown, and leave us the way we are living,” she said. “How can I even entertain the thought of economic development when I cannot get District 5 cleaned up?”

The no-confidence vote took up the bulk of Thursday’s meeting, but it wasn’t the only action passed. 

The council also voted 24-1 to ban conversion therapy in the city. Councilman Stuart Benson, a Republican from far eastern Jefferson County, said he opposed regulations for counselors or “anyone who is trying to help kids.”

Conversion therapy is widely criticized and discredited by experts and public health professionals.

The council also briefly considered an effort from councilmember Anthony Piagentini to allocate $10,000 of his neighborhood development funds to the Middletown Police Department for the purchase of non-lethal munitions and riot gear, such as tear gas, pepper ball guns and shields.

Piagentini, a Republican from District 19, said the gear was “basic safety equipment,” and necessary tools for the newly formed police department. Middletown Police has assisted LMPD in recent protests, and is planning to assist in civil unrest planned in the coming days, Piagentini said, though he did not share details of the coming protests.

The ordinance was sent back to a committee at Piagentini’s request after several councilmembers criticized the allocation.

“We’re in the middle of metro-wide discussion about how we use weapons and how we deescalate issues and social unrest,” said Democrat Rick Blackwell. “It just feels tone deaf, to me.”

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.