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Louisville Metro Council hires former ethics chief to investigate peer

This is a headshot of Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini.
Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini, pictured above, is under scrutiny for a potential conflict of interest tied to a $40 million grant the council gave a powerful group of healthcare executives. He supported the initial grant proposal — and then accepted a consulting job with the group after the council approved the money.

Jonathan S. Ricketts is an attorney and former chair of the city’s ethics commission and has led several high-profile investigations for the Metro Council in recent years.

Louisville Metro Council has hired Jonathan S. Ricketts to investigate District 19 Republican Anthony Piagentini’s involvement in a $40 million federal COVID-19 relief grant the council awarded to a local nonprofit last year for a workforce development program.

Metro Council President Markus Winkler said Ricketts will try to determine whether Piagentini broke local ethics laws or council rules, and if he violated federal spending guidelines for pandemic relief money.

Winkler said on Thursday that he doesn’t know how long the investigation will take. Metro officials did not immediately respond to requests for Rickett’s contract with the city or information about how much they are paying him to investigate Piagentini’s potential conflict of interest.

Last month, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reportingrevealed that Piagentini advocated for the nonprofit, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, to get the grant — and then took a job with the group the day after the council passed an ordinance approving the spending plan.

Piagentini — who has worked for two decades in the healthcare industry — said he started negotiating a job with the CEO Council after the spending plan cleared the budget committee and before the full council vote.

He said in an interview with KyCIR that he’s done nothing wrong. He abstained from the final vote and removed himself as one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors.

After the KyCIR report, the Metro Council asked the city ethics commission to review the matter for potential violations of the city’s ethics code, which bars council members from using their official position for gain.

But last week, the council hedged on the push, saying they want more evidence Piagentini potentially violated rules before filing an ethics complaint.

Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, said the outside attorney could provide the evidence they need. Ricketts, a former chair of the city’s ethics commission, is a highly regarded investigator, Winkler said.

Council member Kevin Kramer, a District 11 Republican and vice chair of the council’s minority caucus, said he supports the hire.

“I consider Mr. Ricketts to be someone of utmost integrity and probably one of the most informed and respected attorneys in our city on this subject,” he said in a statement. “I will look forward to hearing his opinion on this matter and plan [to] follow his advice.”

Ricketts didn’t immediately respond to interview requests for this story.

The council has tapped him several times before for independent inquiries, including investigations into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct among leadership at the city’s TARC bus service and the Louisville Metro Police Department’s youth Explorer Program.

Ricketts participated in reviews of several council members when he served on the city’s ethics commission, including investigations into Judy Green and Barbara Shanklin. The commission found both council members violated the rules. Shanklin is still on the Metro Council today.

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.