Ethics trial for Metro Council member who pushed $40 million grant for future employer starts Monday
Louisville’s Ethics Commission will hold a trial starting Monday for a top Metro Council Republican who’s accused of advocating for a potential employer to get a $40 million grant.
Anthony Piagentini, a District 19 Republican, was an early and vocal supporter of a plan by the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council to train hundreds of entry-level workers and build an “innovation corridor” in the Russell neighborhood. But when the $40 million project came up for a final vote in December, Piagentini abstained and removed himself as a co-sponsor without explanation.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting later found Piagentini took a job with the Healthcare CEO Council one day after council members approved funding. That report led to a complaint and the investigation by the Ethics Commission.
Piagentini, who represents the Middletown area in far east Louisville and heads the council’s Republican Caucus, denies his actions ran afoul of ethical or legal boundaries.
“There was zero quid pro quo here. I did this by the book,” he told KyCIR in February.
The ethics proceedings this week will function much like a criminal trial. A member of the Ethics Commission will act as the prosecutor, presenting the findings of former Kentucky State Police detective Jim Griffin, whom the commission hired to investigate. Piagentini’s lawyer, J. Brooken Smith, will present his defense.
There will likely be testimony from witnesses from city government and the private sector who were involved in the winning bid. The commission may also present documents it received through subpoenas.
Following the hearings, the Ethics Commission will make a ruling as to whether Piagentini violated Metro’s Ethics Code. It will be up to Metro Council to decide if he should be disciplined, including whether to initiate removal proceedings.
The trial will be held in the auditorium of the Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Branch, 301 York Street, starting each day at 9 a.m. It is open to the public.
Piagentini’s lawyer tried in June to get the Ethics Commission to end its investigation. In denying that motion, the commission laid out the questions it will aim to answer at the trial.
‘Unwarranted privileges or advantages’
The ethics investigation kicked off after Kevin Fields, the president of the nonprofit Louisville Central Community Centers Inc., filed a complaint to the commission in March. CCC lost its bid for federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was meant for COVID-19 recovery. The Louisville Healthcare CEO Council got the money.
The complaint against Piagentini charges he violated Louisville’s ethics code by using his position as a Metro Council member to “secure unwarranted privileges or advantages” for himself. The commission is also examining whether Piagentini acted with a “financial interest or private interest that might reasonably be expected to impair his or her objectivity.”
The case hinges on the timeline of the CEO Council’s proposal as it moved through Metro Council, and how it lines up with conversations around the job offer to Piagentini and his public support of the project.
Records show Piagentini received an email with a nondisclosure agreement from the CEO Council’s Tammy York Day on the morning of Nov. 17. Just five hours later, Piagentini attended a Budget Committee meeting where he spoke in favor of the project and voted to advance it to a final vote.
Piagentini told investigators he did not open the email until the next day and that was the first time he discussed the job with any representative from the CEO Council.
In their denial of the dismissal request, Ethics Commission members noted he has never produced metadata from his Gmail account or computer showing when he opened the email.
They also cast doubt on his claim that there was no prior talk of employment.
“Ms. York-Day makes clear that numerous discussions about the possibility of Piagentini being employed in some capacity with Healthcare CEOc date back to at least 2021 and continued or re-started in September, 2022 at a conference attended by Piagentini, paid for by [the Healthcare CEO Council],” the commission wrote.
Michael Mattioli, who teaches contract law at the University of Indiana, previously told KyCIR that “it’s not typical for a potential employer to send an NDA to a candidate just out of the blue without some prior conversation.”
Piagentini’s job with the Healthcare CEO Council is a one-year consulting contract paying $20,000 a month, records show.
Piagentini’s attorney denied there was any serious job offer before he voted for the project in committee in mid-November. He also said Piagentini had no financial interest because he didn’t sign with the CEO Council until the day after the final vote, from which he recused himself.
That Ethics Commission indicated it’s not impressed by those arguments.
“This seems like an unlikely interpretation [of the ethics code],” the commission concluded.
Piagentini didn’t explain recusal
The Ethics Commission is also expected to look at whether Piagentini violated disclosure rules because of how and when he recused himself.
Louisville Metro’s Ethics Ordinance states any council member who has a “financial or private interest in any matter pending before the Metro Council shall disclose such financial or private interest on the record … and shall disqualify himself or herself from participating in any debate, vote, or proceeding … including engaging in any communications with other Metro
Council Members regarding said matter.”
The commission has argued Piagentini should have disclosed his conflict of interest sooner. They also noted Piagentini recused himself from the vote without explaining the conflict, which is required by local law.
“The Code [of Ordinances] … places the sole duty of stating the basis for a recusal upon the conflicted Officer, not on his fellow Councilmembers to cross-examine him if he chooses not to disclose his conflict,” the commission wrote.
The commission can turn over any evidence it collects to the Kentucky Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office or any law enforcement agency.