Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Greg Fischer

The administration of Mayor Greg Fischer says it was not their intention to lower minority hiring requirements for Louisville Metro Government in a bill passed in Frankfort three years ago at their request, but they would now be open to changing the law after several Louisville legislators criticized it.

As reported by IL last week, the Kentucky General Assembly amended several aspects of the state law concerning consolidated local governments in 2013, including the percentage of minority citizens who must be employed by them. Whereas Metro Government previously was required to employ a percentage of minorities that was not less than that of the Jefferson County population or membership on Metro Council, the amendment in House Bill 320 changed this to the percentage of minorities in Louisville’s Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes 13 of the surrounding counties in Kentucky and Indiana and has a minority population that’s roughly 10 percent lower than Louisville.

State Reps. Reginald Meeks and Darryl Owens of Louisville voted for the bill — the latter sponsoring it — but suggest that particular amendment was “snuck in” and misrepresented by the Fischer administration, and now that they are aware of it they are planning to change it back in the current legislative session. Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said last week that the administration did push for the amendment, but only because national workforce data is tracked at the metropolitan level and because “the city draws its employees regionally, not just within Jefferson County.”

Poynter followed up with another statement to IL this week, saying the amendment was only intended to eliminate what they believed to be the unnecessary reporting of county-level minority employment in Metro Government, and that lowering minority employment requirements was never the administration’s goal. Poynter added that 28 percent of the workforce in Metro Government are minorities, which he says is more than Jefferson County’s minority population of 27 percent.

“If the subsequent legislation that was passed does indeed relate to hiring, that was not only not the intention, it goes against both the beliefs and actions of the Fischer administration, and the Mayor would strongly support a clarification to the law,” wrote Poynter.

The specific 2013 amendment (bolded and underlined) in HB 320 pushed by the Fischer administration
The specific 2013 amendment (bolded and underlined) in HB 320 pushed by the Fischer administration

Asked if Fischer personally believes the amendment lowers minority hiring requirements for Metro Government, Poynter said he does not, “because we know what we were trying to do.”

“It was never about hiring, it was only about reporting,” said Poynter. “But we can appreciate that when you read the law, the language, that it does appear to be about that. So that’s why he’s willing to say if we need to change this, the wording on that, let’s work with the legislators to do that.”

Poynter added that because workforce data is tracked by the federal government at the MSA level, “our point was to get rid of that (county-level) report, which is a lot of work you have to do, tracking it against different metrics. We got rid of that second report.”

Metro Council members Jessica Green, D-1, and David James, D-6, both seemed baffled by Fischer suggesting the amendment does not relate to minority hiring requirements, saying its language is obvious.

“It clearly relates to hiring,” said Green, who is also a lawyer and previously worked at the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office. “But I think this is yet another example of how African-Americans and people of color have been expedient to an end, and then once you have secured their votes and support, the issues that matter and the representation that matters to them is easily discarded.”

James also said the language of the amendment clearly and unambiguously relates to minority hiring requirements, and noted that it does not read as a bill whose purpose was to streamline reporting — no matter the intent of the Fischer administration when pushing for its passage.

“What we ended up with seems to be pretty clear to me, that it’s not helpful for the representation of all people within our Metro Government — it actually dilutes minority representation,” said James. “I would like to see the mayor be supportive and push forward legislation to amend it so that this doesn’t take place, because I know that was one of the big concerns of minorities in Louisville when the merger was being discussed – that their representation would be diluted somehow — and this particular law actually does that. Or ‘appears’ to clearly open the door for those types of things to take place.”

Poynter also shared with IL a 2013 email from the administration’s general counsel and legislative liaison to Rep. Owens, summarizing the amendments within HB 320. In the email, Pat Mulvihill — who is now a councilman for District 10 — told Owens that this amendment would track employment data “with a more accurate measure using Census data.” An attachment to the email contains the exact language of the amendment, along with a similar summarization about accurate measurement that doesn’t explicitly mention anything about minority hiring requirements being significantly lowered.

Mulvihill’s email also stated that Carolyn Miller-Cooper — executive director of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission — had met with leaders of the local NAACP and Urban League to talk about this amendment, and that “both are now comfortable with the way it reads.”

Miller-Cooper tells IL she does not remember anyone in the Fischer administration mentioning that the amendment would lower minority hiring requirements, because she would have opposed such a measure.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1
Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1

“My recollection is that it had to do with reporting, and I definitely don’t remember anybody ever saying anything about lowering the hiring goals,” said Cooper-Miller. “That would have not played well with me, personally… I would have definitely commented on that. If that was what the goal was, nobody ever communicated that to me.”

As for Poynter’s argument that minority employment in local government is slightly higher than the minority population in Jefferson County, Councilwoman Green says Fischer is now responsible for that no longer being legally required.

“You don’t get a pat on the back for something that you should do anyway,” said Green. “You have made it legal for minority representation in Jefferson County’s government to not be commiserate with what the county representation is, and shame on you. Shame on the entire administration for that.”

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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]