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Commission evaluating Louisville merger will submit final report Friday

Downtown Louisville as looking west
Ryan Van Velzer
Members of a state-created commission plan to recommend changes they want the legislature to impose on Louisville, whose city and county governments merged 20 years ago.

Since last year, the Louisville Metro Comprehensive Review Commission has been examining the successes and failures of the 2003 city-county merger. It’s set to issue a final report to the Kentucky General Assembly on Friday.

The 15-member commission is made up of state and local elected officials, and businesspeople chosen by Greater Louisville Inc., the area chamber of commerce. The Republican-dominated state legislature created the commission last year when it approved House Bill 314 over the objections of Louisville’s Democratic leadership. The bill tasked the commission with examining how Louisville Metro distributes services across the county, the city’s taxing powers and the “accomplishments and insufficiencies … of the consolidated local government model.”

Commission members have voted in recent weeks on dozens of recommendations they plan to make to state lawmakers. Among those is a request to make Louisville’s mayoral election nonpartisan.

Bonnie Jung, mayor of Douglass Hills and president of the Jefferson County League of Cities, put the proposal forward. Jung said many of Louisville’s peer cities, including Nashville and Columbus, already have nonpartisan mayorships.

“We want to continue to progress forward,” she said at a commission meeting on Sept. 7. “I believe that one of the ways we can do that is when the person at the top represents everyone.”

A majority of commission members said they think nonpartisan elections are an effective way to reverse America’s divisive politics, which trickle down to the local level. The elected officials on the body are a mix of Republicans, Democrats and an Independent.

A bill to make Louisville’s local elections nonpartisan was approved by a state House committee two years ago, but it never received a final vote. At the time, many of the city’s Democratic officials opposed the change because it was being dictated by Frankfort Republicans.

Other recommendations approved by the commission include requiring Louisville’s various boards and commissions to reflect the geographic and political diversity of Jefferson County under state law. That is already required under the city’s Code of Ordinances. The commission will also ask the Louisville Metro Police Department to review its staffing levels in suburban and rural parts of the county.

Commission members concluded that residents living outside the boundaries of the old City of Louisville are paying for local government services they don’t receive, based on a data analysis by University of Louisville economics professor Paul Coomes.

Critics of the commission, meanwhile, argue the body is making recommendations based on incomplete and inaccurate data. They also question whether the commission’s recommendations reflect the will of Louisville residents.

Democratic elected officials on the commission voted against some of the major recommendations. Louisville’s top leaders, including the Democratic mayor and Metro Council majority caucus, mostly avoided participating in the commission’s deliberations.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.