metro hall

After years of attempts by Metro Council to gain access to information about applicants to the city’s nearly 100 boards and commissions – and an ordinance last summer mandating such access – council members tell IL they still are facing barriers to such information from the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer.

In August, Metro Council nearly unanimously passed an ordinance requiring the mayor to provide the chair and vice chair of the Committee on Contracts and Appointments with computerized access to the database for all applicants to the boards and commissions approved by the council. This step occurred after years of attempts to provide transparency to the application process, as well as concerns that Fischer’s nominations to these boards lacked diversity in terms of race, region and political affiliation.

Councilwoman Julie Denton, R-19
Councilwoman Julie Denton, R-19

However, even though committee chair Julie Denton, R-19, tells Insider Louisville she received access to the database of applicants late last year, she says some applicant information still is being withheld by the administration.

“The council clerk’s office compiles applicant info into charts and gives them to me, but the problem is the mayor’s office takes applicants and designates whether they are archived or not, and we can’t see the ones who are archived,” says Denton. “So we still can’t tell if we’re only looking at ‘current’ applicants, and how such a status is determined… It’s still like pulling teeth.”

Metro Council has increasingly started to table Fischer’s nominations to boards and commissions over a lack of diversity, including the all white male nominations to the Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Board in December. Councilman David James, D-6, told IL at the time that he knew of a female and African-American who applied to that board, but was told by Nicole Yates, the mayor’s director of boards and commissions, that they weren’t considered because they were “archived” and the sheriff’s department requested the nomination of other applicants.

Fischer’s administration has responded to bipartisan criticism of the lack of diversity of such nominations by saying they lack available applicants from various backgrounds, which limits whom they are able to nominate. Denton says that could be verified if they received a full list of such applicants, which she has yet to receive.

“If we see a pool of applicants and it is diverse, you should have that same diversity on the boards,” says Denton. I don’t know why it’s such a big secret who is applying for these boards. There’s no reason not to be transparent unless this information shows that you’re only picking your friends and stacking the deck for them.”

In an interview with IL, Mayor Fischer said that despite last year’s ordinance, he believes the council is not entitled to have all information about applicants.

“No, that’s not the role,” said Fischer. “The role is the executive nominates, and then (council) can accept or reject. That’s my job. That’s what I’m elected to do. They’re elected to do something else. I think when you look at the performance of the boards and what’s going on there, there’s no problems, so I’m not sure why there should be an overreach into the responsibility that I have here.”

Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Greg Fischer

Fischer added that he has encouraged the council “many, many times to please help us find good candidates,” but there is only so much he can do if only certain people apply.

“People are quick to point out the shortages sometimes, but they’re not so quick to help,” said Fischer. “There’s some attempt to confuse what the roles are, so we’ll continue to put forth good candidates, and the council’s role is to accept them or not.”

In the same interview, mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter said the administration is limited in what applicant information they can provide by state law, referring IL to the entire state statute on merged governments. Denton denied this explanation, saying if this was true they wouldn’t be able to access any of the information they now have access to.

When it comes to minority representation on city boards and commissions, Yates recently cited the same statute to The Courier-Journal to explain why African-Americans made up only 18 percent of their makeup, while they represent 22 percent of Jefferson County’s population and 23 percent of Metro Council. Yates claimed that state law required African-American representation on such boards to be representative of the 13-county Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is only 14 percent.

Denton said that explanation “doesn’t make any sense to me. If these boards only have jurisdiction in Louisville, why would they have to meet the demographics of other counties?”

While this KRS 67C.117(2) statute was amended in 2013 by the Kentucky General Assembly to require that the percentage of minority citizens employed by a merged local government be no less than their percentage in the MSA – as opposed to the previous designation of minority citizens’ percentage “in the community, or the percentage of minority representatives on the consolidated local government’s legislative body” — it clearly did not extend this new statistical requirement to the representation of boards and commissions.

A council member told IL he recently was informed that Mayor Fischer’s office lobbied for this amendment in Frankfort, but Poynter did not respond to our inquiry asking to verify this, and if they did so, what was their rationale.

Asked if he was open to changing this minority percentage requirement back to the county level from the MSA, Fischer said he is “open to more discussion on that.”

“There’s not anything written in stone on that,” said Fischer. “What I want to do with these boards is represent our cities as much as possible. So we’re going to continue to work in that direction.”

Denton says she hopes to receive more information about the application process at the next meeting of the Committee on Contracts and Appointments in two weeks.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]