The following is the seventh of eight exit interviews with members of Louisville Metro Council who will be leaving their seat in early January. In this interview, Insider talks with Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, about the highs and lows of her 13 years on Metro Council and what she plans to do now. Welch, a Democrat, was first appointed to the seat in 2006 and was elected to three terms. She chose not to run for a fourth term this year.

Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13

Insider Louisville: In your nearly 13 years on Metro Council, what are you most proud of accomplishing for Louisville?

Welch: As far as legislation goes, I’m most proud of the smoking ban — coming from a health background. And now that it has been implemented for 10 years, there are some great outcomes … less strokes, less heart attacks, less infant mortality, less asthma. And those were our goals, plus less people smoking, it has curbed that. That was a huge fight. Huge Fight. And I was skeptical that we would win, actually, but we did. And I think it’s expected now. I mean, people expect clean clean air to breathe, they really do. 

Then, of course, two years ago we had to implement the e-cigs into it and amend the ordinance for that. And now that is a humongous problem among high schoolers. They are saying 75 percent of high schoolers use e-cigs, not knowing how harmful that is. Because there are more toxic gases and things than in cigarettes. But they can hide it, it doesn’t smell as bad. There’s no smoke smell. I saw on the news where this girl… they can hide it in their arm in class. They can do it in class and hide that vapor in their armpit! I mean it’s just amazing. And it’s the flavors. These companies have the flavors that are appealing to these kids and it’s so cool. It’s scary. But for legislation, that is my big thing to depart from here with. 

And, then, the Healthy Kids ordinance, which was recent. That didn’t pass very easily either, but I’m anxious to see how those outcomes will be in the future. And if nothing else it makes parents be aware. I did the calorie count ordinance with Jim King, when he was still here, and that was a big fight, just putting the calorie counts on the menus. But that is so helpful, and people have thanked me for that, too, because it makes their choice (easier). You know, do I want to the chocolate sundae whatever at 1,800 calories or do I want the banana whatever, which is only 800 calories. So even though you might be doing something that’s sugary or whatever, you can choose the lesser of the evil sort of thing. Because people don’t realize the calories that are in things until you actually see that on the board. So I think that’s pretty good legislation, as far as interacting with my health care background, which I did for 34 years. 

IL: On the flip side, what would you say you’re most disappointed by, in terms of what Metro Council or Metro Government was not able to accomplish throughout those 13 years. 

Welch: My biggest frustration of all is our NDF (Neighborhood Development Fund) and CIF (Capital Infrastructure Fund) pots of money being divided equally, when in truth it is not equitable at all. Because the South End loses all the way around. 

The East End — for instance, District 7 has 26 small cities partnering with that district. I have one tiny 100-home neighborhood that has barely any money and can’t do anything for themselves. They don’t partner for anything. So I am it for my whole district, which is humongous with the largest urban forest in America, which costs a lot of money out of my NDFs. And when I see what has come across… for instance, District 7 just gave $115,000 to the zoo. Not using her funds for her neighborhood, because she doesn’t have to! Because they have small cities, their own tax base is taking care of those folks. 

I mean, I’m paving streets, $55,000 in sidewalks. I probably used $200,000 paving streets this year, in addition to whatever few streets Public Works did. I used all of my CIF fund and some of my NDF fund for the streets and sidewalks because I have to. I don’t get low-income dollars, I don’t get CDBG dollars like the West End does. I spend nearly every penny, and this year I could only spend half because I’m leaving. But I spend nearly every penny for the old neighborhoods. I have neighborhoods built in the ’40s and the ’50s that are crumbling, and the big trees getting into the sidewalks and those kinds of things. And I’m spending all the money, much of it, on infrastructure. 

And then just trying to promote, trying to get the Southwest Dream Team on board and the LIBA South group that’s helping us. In fact, I had two meetings with each of those back to back this morning, still trying to entice development. We’ve got the Colonial Gardens, which is a big one now, and thank goodness to this mayor for helping us and guiding us through that and being able to fund that and purchasing the property, and wooing the Underhills to do it. So at least we’ve got that. That’s not my district, but it’s sure close to my district and my people are going to benefit by greatly, and I’m certainly hoping that that will spark the whole New Cut corridor to get some more development. 

And the daggone warehouses. I mean, they are popping up like crazy in my district, and they’re empty. They have nobody, no tenants, but they’re building them. And the Planning Commission lets them do it. What is that? That’s not good development. Humongous empty warehouses. Build it and they will come, I guess is what they’re thinking. But they’re not coming and they’re sitting there empty. There’s one two years old that’s right at the Gene Snyder and New Cut, and there’s one in our meeting tomorrow to build one right next door. And then there’s one on my street, from my neighborhood, that’s been there for a year. The sign still up, leasing. Nobody’s there. The trees are dying out in front … it’s ridiculous. 

The people want retail and restaurants, and we’re not getting that at all in that particular area of my district, New Cut and National Turnpike. Seems to be, all we can get is used car lots and warehouses where nobody’s working, no jobs. So I think there are some things that need to be looked at … How much of one thing is in one area and do you really need that, instead of just the checklist — whatever it is that they’re using — at the planning commission. You know, they they need to go outside of that scope and look at the development in the areas and see what is the need. And if there’s already 10 empty ones, why are you allowing them to build another one? 

IL: Beyond specific public policy and legislation, are there any aspects to how Metro Council functions that you think need to change, in terms of how council members interact or how they interact with the mayor’s office? 

Welch: Well, it can be dysfunctional, as everybody knows. And it can be argumentative There are so many different strong opinions on this council. I mean, people who run for these jobs are not meek and mild people. I think we kind of need to be a little more professional at times. 

But I think it’s going to be different with these eight new members that are coming. Some of them are new, some of them have been around government and know the ropes. I mean, that’s almost a third of the council, getting some fresh ideas, fresh opinions. Hopefully, be more cohesive because they haven’t been here forever. You know, some of those that have been here forever think it’s her way or no way. No, life is all about changes and progress, and things do change. And we do need to mix and mingle with each other. 

We had an idea one time to take a bus tour — for the Democratic caucus — all through each other’s districts. And some were saying: “I’m not going out of my district. I don’t have any reason to be out of my district.” Well, yes you do, especially in the south, because we have to pool our monies for things. Like I said, we don’t have a small cities. So Cindy (Fowler), Rick (Blackwell), me, David (Yates), Dan Johnson and Marianne Butler, we were the ones who got the Colonial Gardens thing together by pooling our funds together. We got the Southwest Dream Team together and started. We got the LIMA South together to help promote our area with funding from our budgets to help us out there. 

And after 10 years, it’s really starting to move. It takes awhile. You know, we’ve all done neighborhood plans and we’ve helped fund each other’s neighborhood plans. Dan Johnson, Marianne, David and I did the Taylor Boulevard-New Cut Road study, which hasn’t really been funded, so to speak, but the Colonial Gardens was right in the center of that and it is moving. So again, I see where they can spark and move the corridor. And we’ve done some things. We’ve done the TARC stop beautification efforts, putting benches and garbage cans and trees and things like that along the roadways in our districts — David and I did along New Cut Road. So we do a lot, we are very cohesive in the South End, the Democrats that work together, pool our funds together, do that as a team. And Nicole George (councilwoman-elect for District 21) is going to be fabulous. I can see that already. Her people love her, she’s already been out there, of course. She won by such high margins. I’m hopeful that Mark Fox (councilman-elect in District 13) will continue to do the things. 

IL: The Democratic caucus in recent years has been known for some pretty vicious infighting. What do you think is the cause of that? 

Welch: I think because we are different. Our areas are different, you know. Some are similar. Like I said, those in the south: Cindy, Rick, David Yates and me — 12, 13 14 and 25, our districts are very similar, as far as the people. It’s suburban, it’s rural in some cases. Two of them have the river. We’re very similar. We’ve got the same Division 3 police over all of us. The other two are urban: Marianne and Dan Johnson’s district were urban, yet they border up to us with Iroquois Park and Colonial Gardens and Churchill Downs, those big things that our South End people go to. So we are very cohesive, that group. 

Now, the West End has their own problems and their own issues. They’re the oldest part of the city. They’ve got the MSD problems with the cave-ins in the downtown area. They’ve got different issues than we have, and their priorities are different. And then we’ve got the few offshoots that are East End, a couple of them — what I would consider east, like the Highlands and St. Matthews. So they’re totally different issues. They’ve got the bar scene and parking, and I don’t have that issue at all. So, everybody just has their different needs that they’re looking out for, and their priorities that are different. 

Whereas, the Republican caucus, on the other hand, pretty much is all the same, following each other in line. They vote the same. I don’t know, they’re pretty bland (laughs). 

IL: In the election we just had, the Democrats expanded their Metro Council majority to 19-7 and Mayor Fisher won re-election by a wide margin. Why do you think the Democrats have been able to expand their power even further in Louisville? 

Welch: I think it’s because of the snafus of Governor [Matt] Bevin and [President Donald] Trump. Both of those leaders, state and federal. Especially the debacle with the teachers with Bevin. People have had enough and they were not apathetic. They came out and voted. I mean, in years past, people were just apathetic, they don’t care about council races, they don’t get excited. But this time they did, because there’s been enough on the federal and state level to be divisive, and the majority of people don’t really want that. 

IL: So Democrats now have an even larger supermajority on Metro Council, and hypothetically they don’t really need Republican votes to pass legislation the next two years. How do you think they should handle that type of power going forward? 

Welch: Well, they definitely need to rein it in and keep our group together. Because there have been some problems here, especially with that last appointment, where a few Democrats went with the Republicans and let them steer them that way. 

IL: The appointment of Vitalis Lanshima to District 21? 

Welch: Yes. And that has been nothing but trouble. There was a clear front- runner with the voters in that area. The job promoted — I mean, you know the story. And I was right! I’m sorry, but I was right. That could have been a whole different thing. 

You know, you can’t just choose someone because they’re African-American or because they’re disabled. You can’t just do that. You have to look at the district and what the district needs. And you have to look at someone who has been in the district, not someone who just moved there. 

That’s what happened in my district (in 2006) — the Republican just moved there, she couldn’t even be appointed because she hadn’t been there long enough. So she luckily didn’t get the appointment and I did. But I beat her because she wasn’t dug in. She was essentially a nobody in the district. She ran against me in 2006 and I beat her again in 2010 after a nasty smear campaign that they did on me with Doug Hawkins, she was his aide. I beat her even then, because I people want somebody with stability, with intelligence, with their hand in the district, which Nicole George has. 

(George) has been in the ministries, she’s been in the neighborhood associations and that sort of thing, so people already knew her. She was a known person and he wasn’t, and that’s really why (Lanshima) lost so big. Despite everything else that went on, he was really an unknown, similar to Rene Davis in my race. 

IL: Do you have any advice for Councilman-elect Mark Fox, who will be taking over in District 13? 

Welch: I have a lot of advice. To continue giving great service to the people in the district. I believe that is your No. 1 focus, to get to know as many people as you can in your district by being in the district, being at the events. I have a satellite office there, twice a week in the afternoons, Mondays and Fridays, right next to the county clerk’s office. So there is a wide array of people that come in and out of there. Maybe they weren’t going to talk to me, but “oh, there she is, let’s tell her about whatever.” So that’s been a great asset. 

I’ve also opened up that Playtorium building to people. Parks would never give me a person to make it like a community center, although it acts as a community center. So I’ve been the keeper of the key. I think he should continue to try to get a person from Parks or Facilities or together or whatever to give us at least a part-time person there. Because it does get daunting at times, but I’ve had no problems. I’ve got two quilter groups, a woodworking group, I’ve got the lunch nutrition program there every day. And then I’ve got these outside people that come in, like the Girl Scouts. A wrestling group from De Sales High School used it for a banquet one time, I got Fairdale High School groups that used it for banquets at times. I mean, they have to set it up, clean it up and do all that because we have no person. There is no person overseeing the building, but I’m the keeper of the key to let them in and out. I give them the key and trust them with the key, and I’ve had no problems over these last five years I’ve been doing that. So I’m hoping he continues to do that, because it is a taxpayer building that costs heat and cooling and everything, and they might as well be using it. 

IL: What do you plan on doing now? 

Welch: Well, I’m going to be a snowbird in Florida. Spending more time with my mother, who’s going to be 84 soon and is starting to have some health issues. My husband’s retiring and he has several health issues, so being a nurse, a perfect time to take care of my family. 

And then hopefully rest and rest and sleep and sleep, because I’ve been going nonstop since 2006 and it’s not over until December 30th. I have one more person using that Playtorium that I have to get the key back from. 

IL: Is there any chance that you might run for office again, or is that chapter behind you? 

Welch: I can’t imagine it. I’ll probably run for my board down in Florida, my condo associated. I’m on the board, I’m the treasurer of our neighborhood association. Those kinds of things I’ll continue to do. The Little Loomhouse has already asked me to get on their board to help them with their capital campaign. I will do things like that in and around the neighborhood, especially. 

But what I do want to do when I get back from Florida — as far as my nursing capacity from my past — I would like to rock drug babies in the NICU. And then I would like to do Meals on Wheels to serve the older population. Because I have a real affection for children and the older population for seniors — which I am one now. I’m getting all the discounts, I’m loving it. 

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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]