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Metro Council Member Piagentini target of formal ethics investigation

District 19 Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini speaking to residents at a public meeting at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on August 18, 2022.
Roberto Roldan
District 19 Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini speaking to residents at a public meeting at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on August 18, 2022.

The city’s ethics commission will determine if Anthony Piagentini’s role in a $40 million COVID-19 relief grant broke law.

The Louisville Metro Ethics Commission has opened an investigation into Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini after getting a sworn complaint alleging he violated the city’s ethics laws late last year when he helped a local nonprofit get federal funds and then took a job with the group.

The seven-member ethics commission hired an independent investigator to lead the inquiry, which was launched last week.

Kevin Fields, the president of the nonprofit Louisville Central Community Centers Inc., filed the complaint against Piagentini, who didn’t respond to requests for comment this week but has maintained he’s done nothing wrong in previous interviews.

Fields said he decided to file the complaint with the ethics commission after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed potential conflicts of interest surrounding Piagentini’’s involvement with a $40 million Covid-19 relief grant the city allocated to the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.

Fields said he applied for the same federal funding that was ultimately awarded to the Healthcare CEO Council for a workforce development program. He’s concerned Piagentini helped tip the scales in the nonprofit’s direction and broke the rules.

“Ethics rules are there to keep the council members from acting in their own personal interest,” Fields said in a phone call Monday. “I felt like [the article] was enough to [show] me that he was acting in his personal interest.”

Piagentini now facing two investigations

Piagentini started negotiating a job with the Healthcare CEO Council as the proposed $40 million spending measure — that he co-sponsored — was working through the council’s approval process, according to KyCIR’s reporting. The CEO Council wants to use the money to train entry-level healthcare workers and build a training center in the Russell neighborhood. in the Russell neighborhood.

Piagentini urged his colleagues to support the project in committee hearings.

And then he abstained from the final vote on the ordinance and removed himself as co-sponsor with little explanation before taking a consulting job with the nonprofit the day after the full council approved the measure.

The ethics commission is responsible for enforcing the city’s ethics code, which bars council members from using their official position for personal gain.

Lewis, the commission’s general counsel, said the ethics commission voted to authorize the investigation into Piagentini at a meeting last Thursday. The commission hired former Kentucky State Police detective Jim Griffin to lead the investigation into Piagentini.

Ethics commission rules state the commission must deliver the complaint to Piagentini within ten days of its filing. Piagentini has 20 days to respond to the complaint.

Piagentini, a Republican who chairs the council’s minority caucus, refused last week to say if he’d been served with the complaint and walked away from a reporter during a break in Thursday’s Metro Council meeting.

“I’m not talking about this anymore,” he said.

This is the second investigation into Piagentini following the KyCIR report on his involvement with the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council grant.

The Metro Council began clamoring for an investigation the day after the report and unanimously approved a resolution to request the city’s ethics commission review the matter. But ethics officials said the ask didn’t fit the parameters of what the body is able to do.

Metro Council president Markus Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, then filed another piece of legislation seeking a formal investigation. But no council member was willing at the time to sign a sworn complaint alleging Piagentini broke the law.

The council hired an outside attorney earlier this month to review the matter and provide potential evidence to support a formal complaint to the ethics commission. That review is led by Johnathan Ricketts.

Winkler said Ricketts’s review will continue amid the formal ethics commission investigation. Ricketts is charged with taking a broader scope than the commission, Winkler said, and will also determine if Piagentini broke council rules or federal spending guidelines.

Metro Council members can be removed by their colleagues from office for “misconduct, incapacity, or willful neglect in the performance of the official duties,” according to the council’s rules.

At least five members have to swear under oath that a colleague has engaged in such behavior to initiate removal proceedings. A two-thirds majority of the 26-member council must vote to oust a member, and anyone removed from the council can appeal to circuit court

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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