Ethics Commission says Piagentini broke rules, should be removed from Louisville Metro Council
The Louisville Metro Ethics Commission ruled Thursday that the Republican council member’s involvement in a COVID-19 relief grant violated six different ethics rules.
The commission says Piagentini should be kicked off the Metro Council because he used his official position as a council member to land a job with a nonprofit that he helped to get a $40 million COVID-19 relief grant.
In addition, the commission fined the District 19 Republican $3,000 for the six ethics violations.
The Metro Council will ultimately decide if Piagentini will be removed from his seat.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first revealed in February that Piagentini took a job with the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, a powerful nonprofit led by local healthcare executives.
Piagentini was a main sponsor of the spending package until the final vote in December 2022 — when he recused himself for what he said was a potential conflict.
By then, he’d secured a job that pays $240,000 a year, but he didn’t mention that at the time.
For months, Piagentini has said he did nothing wrong.
On Thursday, however, the ethics commission said Piagentini “took advantage of a perilous moment in government finance and did so with the intent to personally enrich himself.”
“The public deserves to know that their elected public servants are not involving themselves in schemes to individually enrich themselves, and to know that, when such an actor is caught, they will be dealt with appropriately,” the commission wrote in the final order.
After the final vote Thursday, Piagentini said he will continue to fight.
“I will be using every legal means at my disposal to fight this. I will not go down with this biased, ridiculous opinion,” he said. “I'm looking forward to having my day.”
In a statement sent via email after Thursday’s vote, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said “the findings of the Ethics Commission are clear and unanimous. My administration will swiftly respond to these serious violations to preserve the public’s trust in Metro Government.”
Metro Council president Markus Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, said he takes the commission’s ruling “very seriously.”
“Together, we will carefully examine the recommendations and determine the subsequent actions to be taken,” he said in an emailed statement.
A secret job hunt
The ethics investigation first began in March, after Kevin Fields — the chief executive officer of local nonprofit Louisville Central Community Center Inc. — filed a complaint alleging Piagentini broke the rules when he helped the Healthcare CEO Council get the COVID-19 grant while he was also negotiating a job with the group.
The Healthcare CEO Council wanted the funding to establish a network of healthcare workforce training programs. The group has beenmired in controversy since KyCIR first reported that they hired Piagentini.
Piagentini was an initial sponsor of the funding proposal, along with Winkler.
Piagentini claimed he’d not discussed a job with the nonprofit until he received an unsolicited non-disclosure agreement via email on November 17, 2022 — just hours before the Metro Council’s budget committee would convene to vote on the COVID-19 grant spending plan.
He said he didn’t read the email until the following day — and didn’t know he was being considered for a job until then.
But the ethics commission found he’d been seeking a job with the nonprofit since at least November 2021. And in September 2022, York Day invited Piagentini to a conference hosted by the nonprofit where the two discussed a potential job, the commission found.
“Piagentini did absolutely nothing to recuse himself or to reveal this valuable personal connection to [the nonprofit] until the last second of voting by the full Metro Council,” the commission wrote.
The commission said Piagentini had numerous opportunities to remove himself from the situation.
“And yet he plowed forward in complete secrecy, at least until he had the desired benefit in had, if not until he was ‘caught’ by members of the media,” the body wrote.
A stain on public trust
In all, Piagentini faced seven counts of violating the city’s ethics code.
- Count 1: Improperly soliciting a promise of employment or a thing of value
- Count 2: Use of his official position to obtain “unwarranted privileges or advantages” when he secured a job with the CEO Council
- Count 3: Impairment of objectivity due to a private or financial interest
- Count 4: Failing to disqualify himself from a matter before Metro Council where he had a private or financial interest
- Count 5: Failure to disclose a financial interest
- Count 6: Failure to update his financial disclosure forms
- Count 7: Use of his official position to obtain “unwarranted privileges or advantages” when he got a free ticket to a CEO Council event at Churchill Downs
The commission ruled that count six — based on Piagentini failing to submit required financial disclosures after taking the job with the Healthcare CEO Council — is moot because the council member ultimately filed the documents after being questioned by a KyCIR reporter earlier this year.
The ethics commission said Piagentini’s actions go beyond a mere “appearance of impropriety” and are more akin to “intentional impropriety.”
And the harm is far reaching, the commission wrote.
Piagentini’s actions have eroded trust in local government and now his fellow council members will be “forced to live under a cloud of distrust, in which the citizenry is left to wonder whether they are concocting equally self-aggrandizing schemes at the public’s expense,” the commission wrote.
He also created a potential “administrative nightmare” for Louisville Metro government because his actions are tied to a federally funded COVID-19 relief grant.
“As for the federal government,” the commission wrote. “These events have likewise stained public trust in the ability of the U.S. government — under either major political party — to distribute funds in response to a national emergency without suspicion that they will potentially be misused.”
This story has been updated.