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Ky. senators advance bill changing Louisville West End TIF board rules

Signage that reads "RUSSELL NEIGHBORHOOD" across the street from a red-brick church with bright red doors.
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Louisville's Russell community is one of nine neighborhoods included in the West End TIF. The nonprofit in charge of that TIF is at the center of a Senate bill affecting its board rules.

Kentucky lawmakers voted Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 259 out of committee. The measure would allow a Louisville group overseeing the city’s West End TIF district to remove the local NAACP branch from its board over a candidate dispute.

A group of Kentucky senators voted 10-0 to advance a bill that could boot a board member from a Louisville nonprofit tasked with revitalizing some neighborhoods.

In 2021, state lawmakers created the West End Opportunity Partnership, requiring it to spend millions of dollars to promote economic and residential development in nine neighborhoods, most of which are majority-Black. That includes using a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district to collect a portion of taxes in the West End through 2043.

Denise Harper Angel, a Louisville Democrat, filed Senate Bill 259 last month at the request of Laura Douglas, WEOP’s interim president and CEO.

It allows the nonprofit to remove organizations from its 21-member governing board that don’t follow a rule approved by the body last year. That rule requires certain organizations to submit multiple candidates for the board to choose from, no longer allowing the organizations to pick their own representatives after a member’s term expires.

The bill also adds language specifying that the board can change how representatives are selected.

Douglas spoke in favor of SB 259 to the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

“It’s simply an adoption of the bylaws already in place that the board has voted to abide by,” she said.

Louisville’s NAACP branch is violating that rule in support of its current representative, Jeana Dunlap. Its president, Raoul Cunningham, said last week that his organization believes Dunlap is their best pick for the board and that he would prefer to withdraw from WEOP if the bill passes.

Cunningham argued to the committee Wednesday that the bill is part of an effort to remove his group from the WEOP board over “uncomfortable” questions Dunlap has raised about the board.

“The NAACP has been, for 110 years, a vital source of advocacy in the Louisville community, and we want to continue that advocacy,” Cunningham said.

He also said the bill, by supporting the existing bylaw, would interfere with the NAACP’s “right” to pick its representative.

Douglas argued against that interpretation.

“The NAACP is free to select whomever it chooses, and forward those names to us,” she said.

WEOP board member Mike Neagle, who represents the Portland neighborhood, told the committee that the partnership’s staff did not reach out to the board about any issues SB 259 attempts to address. He also characterized the bill as letting WEOP remove organizations for “arbitrary and unjustified” reasons.

“It would set the wrong precedent for the Kentucky Senate to get involved in the settling of grievances,” Neagle said.

If the NAACP leaves or is removed from the board, the remaining members would be required to fill the vacancy by recruiting another organization that operates in the West End.

WEOP is currently hosting a series of public feedback meetings through April.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.