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Witness testimony ends on day three of Louisville Metro Council member ethics trial

Louisville Metro Council President Markus Winkler testifies during the third day of Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini's ethics trial.
Lily Burris
/
LPM
Louisville Metro Council President Markus Winkler testifies during the third day of Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini's ethics trial.

The third day of the ethics trial for Louisville Metro Council’s top Republican focused largely on how the COVID-19 relief grant was awarded in 2022 to the nonprofit that gave him a job.

Kevin Fields filed the complaint against Metro Council Republican Anthony Piagentini in early March, alleging the lawmaker violated local ethics laws when he sponsored a grant funding proposal for the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and then took a job with the group.

Piagentini is facing seven counts of breaking ethics laws and this week the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission is hearing the evidence gathered during a six-month investigation.

Here’s a rundown of the first day of trial and the second day of trial.

Wednesday began with Piagentini continuing his testimony and denying any wrongdoing.

Then, Fields testified for about an hour and focused primarily on his issues with how the federal COVID-19 relief grant was awarded.

Fields is the president of the local nonprofit Louisville Central Community Centers Inc. and he also applied for the grant funding in early 2022. More than 30 other organizations applied for the funding for workforce development programming.

The Louisville Healthcare CEO Council received most of the funding available — nearly $40 million — for a project that promises to train hundreds of entry-level healthcare workers.

When Fields heard the group got the money, he said he was disappointed because he didn’t think the group was eligible for the funds.

Local nonprofit leader Kevin Fields testifies at Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini's ethics trial.
Lily Burris
/
LPM
Local nonprofit leader Kevin Fields testifies at Louisville Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini's ethics trial.

The Healthcare CEO Council applied for the funding, but the project they submitted was ranked second to last out of 30 eligible projects, according to a scoring summary sheet compiled by the Louisville Accelerator Team, a group of city officials that reviewed each COVID-19 project.

But Piagentini and Metro Council President Markus Winkler wanted to fund a broader project the CEO Council had submitted to another federal agency and decided to use the COVID-19 relief money to do it.

Fields said he thought the process was unfair and sullied by political influence.

“What should I think when the next opportunity comes out,” he said. “If we cannot participate in an open process that appears to be an open and competitive process and get a fair review and a decision based on merit.”

Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, also testified Wednesday and said he didn’t think there was any issue with how the COVID-19 relief grant was awarded. He said the scoring system that put the Healthcare CEO Council’s project second to last was flawed because the city officials didn’t get input from council members.

The Healthcare CEO Council’s project was just what he was looking for, he said.

“And we communicated this to the council as well,” he said.

When the project came up for a final vote before the full Metro Council in December 2022, Piagentini recused himself — but never explained why.

Winkler said he should have disclosed that he’d been discussing a job with the nonprofit.

If Piagentini had done so, Winkler said he likely would have still voted for the project.

“But having that information in the public domain is critical to ensuring there is not the perception of a conflict,” he said.

Winkler was the last witness to be called in the ethics trial proceeding.

On Thursday, the trial will resume for closing arguments.

The ethics commission will decide if Piagentini violated any laws. It will be up to the Metro Council to determine any disciplinary action.

Investigative Reporter Lily Burris is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email Lily at lburris@lpm.org.