Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Greg Fischer

Two African-American state legislators from Louisville expressed shock when they learned of an obscure amendment passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2013 that lowered minority hiring requirements in Louisville Metro Government — an amendment the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer says they requested.

As first reported by Insider Louisville last month, House Bill 320 amended six sections of state law concerning consolidated local governments, with one of those affecting diversity in government hiring practices. Whereas the law previously required the percentage of minority citizens employed by a consolidated local government be no less than the percentage of minority citizens in the community or the percentage on its legislative body, the amendment changed this to the minority population of their Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

This means that in Louisville Metro Government, the minority hiring requirements used to be close to 30 percent — with African-Americans making up 23 percent — but now in the 14-county Louisville MSA, minorities make up only 19 percent of the population and African-Americans comprise 14 percent.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Louisville Democrat who is African-American, says he recently discovered what was passed in 2013, and believes this amendment was “snuck” in without the knowledge of many in the Louisville delegation. Meeks was one of many legislators who voted for HB 320, which passed both chambers without a single dissenting vote. He says he and some of his colleagues are disturbed by the amendment and its lack of disclosure, adding that they may file legislation to change it back during the current session.

“I think it will be addressed, and I think it causes us to be a bit more wary of legislation that comes to us,” said Meeks. “We need the time to really study these proposals.”

Even though he was the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, says he was not aware of the language of that amendment in HB 320 and would not have included it if he had known about it. Though he did not specifically recall who had requested it, he assumed it was someone from the Fischer administration.

“Obviously, I would not have knowingly done that,” said Owens. “There was a lot of stuff in that bill, and I might not have been as aware as I should have been. I have to take responsibility if I filed it, it’s my bill, and I should have known everything that was in it… obviously I’ll be a lot more aware from this point on.”

Rep. Reginald Meeks and Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville (Photo provided by LRC Public Information)
Rep. Reginald Meeks and Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville (Photo provided by LRC Public Information)

At the time IL discussed the amendment with Meeks and Owens, it had been more than a month since we asked mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter whether Fischer’s administration had pushed for the amendment, but no answer was given. Meeks said that if Fischer did so, it would be an affront to the black community of Louisville that helped elect him.

“(Fischer) was elected in large part because of support that he got from west Louisville, the support that he got from the African-American community in Jefferson County,” said Meeks. “If in fact he knew that that change was in there and did not share that fact with us as legislators, it’s a mystery why he would do that.”

When IL followed up with the mayor’s office to relay the concerns of Meeks and Owens, Poynter said the administration did request the amendment. Specifically, he said it was requested by Kellie Watson, an African-American who was then their Human Resources director and is now Fischer’s general counsel and liaison to Metro Council. However, Poynter did not make Watson available for comment to verify his claim.

“The city sought the change in state law because workforce data nationally is tracked mainly on the metropolitan level, as opposed to county level,” wrote Poynter in an email. “In addition, the city draws its employees regionally, not just within Jefferson County.”

Poynter added that the amendment was one of several they had requested for consolidated governments in HB 320, providing a one-page document from that year summarizing the bill. For that particular amendment, the document described it as a “policy of equal opportunity for all citizens,” and a change that “more accurately depicts the area from which Louisville Metro draws its employees.” The document makes no mention of minority hiring requirements being lowered.

Through Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt, Councilman Pat Mulvihill, D-10, confirmed that he also was involved in pushing for the amendment when he was Fischer’s general counsel and director of legislative affairs in 2013.

Told of the Fischer administration’s rationale behind the amendment, Councilman David James, D-6, said it does not make any sense and was not fully explained to Metro Council.

“I’m shocked that we as a city would move to the MSA, because it dilutes representation of minorities and underrepresented individuals,” said James. “The administration normally comes over to Metro Council before the legislative session to talk about what their legislative agenda will be. And they never came to us and said that they intended to do anything like that. If they had, I would have voiced extreme concern about doing that type of thing.”

Councilman David James, D-6
Councilman David James, D-6

James added that it makes no sense for employees of local government to not look like the community they serve.

“We’re down to 9 percent African-American representation on our Louisville Metro Police Department, when we have 22 percent African-American representation in our city,” said James. “So based upon that theory, we could have 14 percent minority representation in our police department, which is not at all representative of the community in which they serve or the jurisdiction that they serve. They don’t serve those other jurisdictions, they serve this jurisdiction in our own community.”

Rep. Meeks also was displeased by Poynter’s explanation.

“The mayor and anyone else can still track data regionally,” said Meeks. “What we question is why he was not upfront with us three years ago when he solicited our support for his proposed legislation… He should have not hidden this fact from us.”

Metro Government’s current workforce is 65 percent white, 30 percent black and 5 percent other minorities, according to Poynter. When told of the objections of Meeks and Owens, he said, “We look forward to learning more about their concerns.”

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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]