Republican mayoral candidate Angela Leet held a campaign news conference Thursday morning blasting Mayor Greg Fischer for what she called a “pattern of secrecy” and lack of transparency from his office, pledging that she will not withhold information from the public if she is elected.
“Fischer’s words on transparency and accountability certainly do not match his actions,” said Leet, who is a first term Metro Council member for District 7. “We are seeing less transparency the longer he’s in office, and I’m really here to say on behalf of the taxpayers that enough is enough.”
Leet echoed recent criticism lodged at Fischer over his refusal to disclose information related to a number of issues, including the investigation of sexual abuse in the LMPD’s Youth Explorer program, tax incentives offered to Amazon, secret committees choosing economic development projects and the names of his guests to the Kentucky Derby that his office has spent nearly $400,000 wooing over the last four years.
On the matter of Fischer’s secret Derby guests, his administration has denied open records requests by saying his guest lists for each year dating back to 2015 is exempt from disclosure under state law due to being “preliminary” documents and because they could reveal potential economic development projects. Fischer’s office has also stated that the disclosure of the names of prospective business representative could also derail the chances of them locating and investing in Louisville.
However, Leet countered that Fischer was trying to hide something and the public has a right to know what their government is doing with their tax dollars.
“Is it really economic development?” asked Leet. “Or was this simply a way to secure additional political donations during an election year? Where is the proof that we have gotten anything for our money? Give us the names (of Derby guests) from last year, if not this year.”
While suggesting that Fischer’s Derby guests may have been solicited for donations, Leet provided no evidence that this had happened. According to records from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, Fischer’s campaign raised $23,600 on Friday through Monday of Derby weekend.
On Tuesday, Insider Louisville asked Fischer if he has lived up to his original campaign promise to run a transparent mayor’s office where “nothing is done in secret,” to which he answered that his administration is as transparent as any city in the country or in Louisville’s history.
“We’ve been nationally recognized for all of the work we do around transparency,” said Fischer. “We were among the first to put all of our police data online. All of our LouieStat process has been nationally recognized. So we’ve done work in transparency in our city like no administration’s ever done, and compared to other cities around the country, the same thing.”
Fischer added that “there’s going to be little exceptions, like this economic development thing that people can point to, but I think common sense has to prevail here.”
Referring specifically to his secret Derby guests — which he spent over $109,000 on this year — Fischer said such secrecy is necessary in order to compete with regional peer cities and to release their names would be “really stupid.”
“Cities compete with each other to recruit businesses to their town,” said Fischer. “So to release a list of business prospects that we’re having to the Kentucky Derby would just be a really stupid thing to do from an economic development perspective.
“Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis would love for us to release our economic development prospect list. I guarantee you that they do not release theirs. So this is an example where common sense has to prevail so that we can grow jobs in our community.”
Mayoral spokeswoman Jean Porter referred questions about Leet’s accusations at her news conference to Fischer’s campaign, which released the following statement from Margaret Brosko, his campaign manager:
“Our city is undergoing an economic renaissance we have not seen in generations, with more than 72,000 new jobs and 2,600 new businesses starting in or relocating to Louisville. That is largely a result of work by the economic development team at Louisville Forward and our great citizens.
Derby provides that team with a world class tool in their efforts to recruit new businesses to our city and persuade existing businesses to expand, and it would be ridiculous not to use that tool. It would also be ridiculous to share the names of those economic development guests publicly, since it would be like handing Louisville’s prospective business list to our competitor cities who would love to see that list and steal our prospects for job growth.
Transparency is important to the Mayor, as evidenced by nationally recognized open data initiatives. And to be clear, the Mayor, every year, released all the costs associated with the Derby recruitment process.
Contributions have never and will never influence any decision Mayor Fischer makes. He is proud to have the support of thousands of Louisvillians from every neighborhood and walk of life and will continue to work tirelessly on their behalf.
As for the Harvey report, let’s remember that it was the Mayor who called for an independent investigation by former US Attorney Kerry Harvey, and he is as eager as anyone to see the report released — once steps have been taken to ensure that doing so does not jeopardize the criminal and civil cases, or pending court orders. Let’s not play politics with this — the No. 1 priority is getting justice for the victims.”
Leet also made a pledge on Thursday that “when I am mayor, I will not withhold information from the public, I will not violate transparency laws, I will not allow secret committees to meet under the cover of darkness and spread taxpayer dollars, and I will not allow backroom deals and secret government spending.”
This post has been updated with a statement from Greg Fischer’s campaign manager. Caitlin Bowling contributed reporting.