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Louisville mayor agrees to seek council approval to use police reform funds on building renovations

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg took questions from the media in Metro Hall. Behind him are two Assistant U.S. Attorney Generals and Interim Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel.
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg took questions from the media at a press conference on March 8, 2023 revealing the findings of the Department of Justice’s investigation into LMPD’s pattern of civil rights violations.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg’s staff indicated last week he wouldn’t ask council members to approve the spending. Greenberg cited “confusion.”

Facing scrutiny for trying to bypass the Metro Council, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said he will ask the legislative body for permission to use the funds. They were earmarked for police reform, but Greenberg wants to use them instead to renovate a new police headquarters and lease an officer wellness center

Getting council’s approval was always his intent, Greenberg said Wednesday — despite weeks of indicating otherwise.

“There was some confusion about whether we needed to, or not,” he said. “We think this is critically important to implement the reforms and improvements the DOJ is suggesting and so we will go back to council in the very near future.”

Some Metro Council members have criticized Greenberg’s plan since he announced it at a press conference earlier this month. They say the money was intended for police reforms, not amenities, and that spending changes must go through council.

The body voted in 2021 to set aside $17.5 million in federal funds for police reforms they anticipated would follow a sweeping Department of Justice investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The DOJ released its findings from that investigation earlier this month and provided more than 30 recommended reforms to address a pattern of misconduct and civil rights abuses they uncovered within the police department.

Greenberg’s staff said last week that they considered using the money for facilities to be part of the reform effort. They cited comments from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said better facilities and officer health and wellness helps police follow the Constitution.

Council President Markus Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, said on Tuesday that he anticipates a new ordinance will be filed with the council after spring break. The legislation will detail specifically how Greenberg will use the federal COVID-19 relief money.

Winkler said he was “in the room” when council members debated the original reform spending plan and it seemed clear then the money would be for systemic changes within the police department.

“And if you want to make a change, we should talk about that,” he said.

But Greenberg’s plan could get more scrutiny in the wake of the DOJ report.

Jecorey Arthur, a District 4 Democrat, said he worries Greenberg is taking resources from the critical work of improving LMPD.

City finance officials are projecting multi-million dollar budget deficits into 2024, which could make finding new money for reforms difficult. And public safety officials have said it will cost millions of dollars a year to implement the changes.

Arthur said he will oppose any plan Greenberg suggests that is crafted without community input. Arthur said police have done real, lasting harm — detailed in the DOJ report — and he said responding by building a new headquarters and wellness center is tone deaf.

The changing conversation

The debate about Greenberg’s spending plan began the day he announced it. He stood with a dozen police commanders the morning of March 2 at Metro Hall and said he wanted to use $14 million of the reform money to renovate a new police headquarters downtown and another $1.6 million to lease an officer wellness center a few miles away in Saint Joseph.

That night, Metro Council members said that Greenberg’s staff should file a new ordinance detailing how he intended to use the funds, then the plan could proceed.

But Greenberg hasn’t filed a new ordinance.

Last week, his staff indicated he wouldn’t, either.

David Kaplan, Greenberg’s general counsel, told the Metro Council last Thursday that administration officials would be happy to discuss the plan with council members. Asked repeatedly by a reporter if the administration would return to get council approval Kaplan said only that they’d come back “to have a conversation, a good conversation, with the council about exactly what we think is needed.”

Council President Winkler warned Kaplan at the meeting that bypassing the council could spell political trouble for the new mayor. And Council Member Arthur cautioned the plan could break the law.

LPM News and KyCIR detailed the clash between the council and mayor’s administration in a report Friday.

Then, on Tuesday, Kaplan returned to the council, telling them the administration would return to the council and get approval for “each specific thing that we’re recommending.”

Greenberg said Wednesday his staff would file an ordinance asking for approval to use the reform money on the building renovation and wellness center.

“We want it to be clear for them and we want it to be clear for the entire public,” he said.

What is this money?

The money at the center of this saga is part of the $388 million Louisville received from the American Rescue Plan Act. Cities across the country got the money to help recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn.

In 2021, police and city officials told Metro Council members LMPD would need millions of dollars to implement reforms from a “top to bottom” review of the agency and the coming federal DOJ investigation.

They asked lawmakers for $35 million in ARP funds to set up a new Accountability and Improvement Bureau to identify needed reforms, implement them, and review how they’re working. The Metro Council ultimately allocated $17.5 million for the effort.

City spending records show less than 4% of the money had been spent by this February.

Roberto Roldan contributed to this story.

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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