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According to records provided to Insider Louisville by the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer, a large portion of Louisville’s 83 boards and commissions have below the legally required percentage of representation by African-Americans, or little to no Republican members.

Both Republican and African-American members of Metro Council voiced criticism of the lack of diversity in appointments to these boards and commissions last year, prompting them to continually table Fischer’s appointments to several boards in the fall. The mayor appoints the large majority of these officials, though some are appointed by the governor or are ex-officio, meaning they serve due to holding an office.

Council members also have decried a lack of transparency from the administration on the application process for these appointments, passing an ordinance that allows them access to applicant data. However, many applications remain concealed due to being “archived.”

City records on the demographics of the over 700 members of these boards and commissions show that 78 percent are white, 18 percent of African-American, and 4 percent are either Hispanic or Asian. The latest Census figures show that non-Hispanic whites make up 69 percent of Louisville, and African-Americans comprise 22 percent.

As for the partisan makeup of these panels, 64 percent are Democrats, 25 percent are Republican, and 11 percent are independent. The latest party registration figures from Jefferson County show that 57 percent of voters are Democrats, 33 percent are Republican, and 10 percent are independent.

The Fischer administration says they have been limited by the lack of a diverse pool of applicants to choose from, but their most recent set of appointees sent to Metro Council for approval includes African-Americans to boards that were previously all or almost entirely white. Council members tell IL this is an encouraging sign that the administration is taking their concerns seriously but add that the city has a long way to go to improve the appointment process and diversify boards.

Lack of diversity a ‘major problem’

State law specifically requires the percentage of minorities on each of these boards and commissions be at least equivalent to their percentage within the community or on Metro Council (whichever is higher), meaning African-Americans must make up at least 23 percent of each panel. However, over half of these boards contain a lower percentage of African-Americans, perhaps most notably on ones dealing with the criminal justice system.

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

For example, there is only one African-American among the eight members of the Criminal Justice Commission Board, responsible for criminal justice and public safety planning, research and coordination. The Police Merit Board, which adopts rules on the hiring and disciplining of LMPD officers, has only one African-American among its seven members. The Citizens Committee of Police Accountability, which reviews police investigations in all officer shooting incidents, has two African-Americans among the 11 appointees, in addition to one Hispanic and two Asian members. There are no African-Americans on the five-member Deputy Sheriff Board, which holds disciplinary hearings for officers.

Members of Metro Council’s Committee on Contracts and Appointments tabled more white appointees to the Deputy Sheriff Board and other panels in the fall, with Councilman David James, D-6, saying the committee would continue to do so until they saw more diverse appointees.

African-Americans also are underrepresented on the 17 suburban fire protection district boards, the seven-member panels that set policy and levy taxes for the fire department and emergency ambulance services throughout Louisville. All 69 of the ex-officio members on these boards are white, while of Fischer’s 51 appointees, 84 percent are white and 16 percent are black. Though most of these suburban areas predominately white, others — such as Lake Dreamland and Buechel, each with one African-American board member — have a significant minority population.

Almost 30 other boards consist of less than 23 percent African-Americans, though some are partly or predominantly made up of ex-officio members or those appointed by someone other than Fischer. These include:

  • Board of Zoning Adjustment: 1 African-American of 7 members
  • Hazardous Maintenance Ordinance Appeals & Overseers Board: 0 of 9
  • Library Advisory Commission: 1 of 9
  • Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1 of 9
  • Medical Center Commission of Jefferson County: 1 of 15
  • Planning Commission: 1 of 10
  • Redevelopment Authority Board: 0 of 8
  • Science Center Board of Directors: 2 of 29
  • Friends of Metro Animal Services: 2 of 19
  • Tax Appeals Board: 1 of 15
  • Waterfront Development Corporation: 1 of 16
  • Waterworks: 1 of 8
  • Zoo Foundation Board: 4 of 39

Councilman James — a retired police detective — told IL the lack of diversity on these boards is disappointing, in particular the ones related to criminal justice and law enforcement oversight.

“Especially with the kinds of things that we have going on, and the feelings in our community about criminal justice and diversity, I would think that we would probably look at those boards and say we need to fix that,” said James.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, who is also African-American and the new chair of the Committee on Appointments, echoed James’ sentiments, saying, “It feels like we’re not even trying to pull you onto these boards and give even the appearance of inclusion, and that’s a major problem.”

Transparency in question

Over the past few months, the Fischer administration has pushed back against charges that his appointments lack the diversity required by state law. In November, the mayor’s director of boards and commissions, Nicole Yates, claimed the statute only required minority representation on boards to be representative of the 13-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which is only 14 percent black. Fischer also told IL that his critics on Metro Council were quick to point fingers but did not actively encourage members of their community to apply for these boards, saying he can only do so much if the pool of applicants for those positions is not diverse.

Mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter told IL this week that they no longer believe diversity requirements for such boards are tied to the MSA and that they should instead be bound by the higher minority population of Jefferson County alone. He added that while the overall ethnic and partisan makeup of these boards are whiter and more Democratic than Louisville, the percentages are not far off, and they hope to narrow the gap.

Mayor Greg Fischer
Mayor Greg Fischer

“Mayor Fischer strives to have diverse boards that represent the community — and he and his team have made significant progress towards that goal,” wrote Poynter in an email. “The Mayor is actively working with Metro Council and others to ensure a more diverse applicant pool.”

The Fischer administration did not provide the specific demographics of current board applicants to IL, instead listing the demographics of the 841 appointees and applicants from last May. They also provided the demographics for 97 individuals who applied for a board or commission in the second half of 2015, without specifying which individuals were appointed. Of those applicants, their ethnic and partisan diversity was a much closer match to the city, with 69 percent white and 24 percent African-American, and 60 percent Democrat and 28 percent Republican.

IL also requested the résumés and applications of those who applied last year but were only given the ones ultimately appointed by Fischer, with the administration arguing Kentucky law prohibits the identity or characteristics of those who were passed over from being revealed.

While it took over a month for the administration to fulfill IL’s open records request, a source within Metro Council provided us with access to a fuller view of the demographics of appointees and applicants from the city’s Granicus website that processes them, which only took a matter of seconds to compile.

Granicus showed that while there are 869 seats on these boards, 147 positions are vacant, amounting to 17 percent. It also listed 232 individuals whose applications were deemed “current,” with 166 of those submitted in the last six months and the rest being older. The ethnic and partisan makeup of these applicants largely mirrored the demographics of the current appointees to the city’s boards and commission.

However, Granicus also showed over 400 additional applicants who were deemed “archived,” a status that has rankled several council members who argue that certain applicants are being thrown out of the system.

Told of the high volume of applications that are archived, Councilman James said this was problematic, as he knows of people who have not been considered for an appointment due to being thrown out of the system.

“Could someone not make the effort to call you and say you weren’t selected for this board, but this other commission would be a good fit for you, would you be interested in it?” asked James. “So it’s a matter of us having purposeful intentions about making sure we have the right people on the right boards.”

Councilwoman Green said it makes sense for some very old applications to be archived, as their information or interest in a position may have changed, but more should be done to reach out to those people before they are taken out of consideration.

“Given some of the concerns that we’ve had with diversity, I would at least like to be able to go in and hear that they’re pulling from that group, or at least realize that they are reaching out and trying to contact them before we just wipe them out and say to hell with you,” said Green. “Unfortunately, that’s not happening.”

Councilwoman Julie Denton, R-19, says that despite her effort last year as chair of the committee to make applicant data more transparent for Metro Council, the administration has not answered her questions on what determines whether applications are archived or not.

“Are they archiving people because they don’t want to deal with them, they don’t like them?” asked Denton. “Is it because their applications have been in a long time? We just don’t know what the answer is.”

Asked about the archive process, Poynter told IL the Fischer administration is “talking to our board and commission software company — Granicus — to see if there is a way to send an automatic email to all past/archived board applicants to inform them of the new vacancies in case they want to resubmit their names for consideration.”

Mayoral spokesman: Expect more diversity going forward

Poynter responded to IL’s questions about several of the boards that lacked the legally required 23 percent black membership, either defending the diversity of Fischer’s appointments or stating the need for more diverse applicants from which to choose.

Referring to the scant numbers of black members on several of the large boards, Poynter said Fischer’s options are limited due to the names submitted by outside organizations. Though there is only one African-American on the 15-member Medical Center Commission, he said Fischer can only select from a list of names given to him by the hospitals. For the Science Center Board, with two African-Americans among its 29 members, he said the center’s nominating committee submits names to the mayor. Poynter added that the administration is working with both groups to get a more diverse list of applicants.

For the Zoo Foundation Board, Poynter noted that Fischer is responsible for only 32 appointments to the 39-member board — three of which are African-American — and that zoo trustees make recommendations of board members to the mayor. Of the zero African-Americans on the nine-member Hazardous Maintenance board, Poynter said seven of the appointees must be members of a regulated industry and that four of those come from a list submitted by Greater Louisville Inc., echoing that “we are working with GLI to get a more diverse list of candidates.”

Poynter reiterated that on several boards, the mayor is only responsible for a portion of the appointees. Fischer appoints six to the Criminal Justice Commission, six to the Convention & Visitors Board, five to the Police Merit Board, eight to the Planning Commission, seven to the Waterfront Development board, and six to Waterworks. Currently, there is only one African-American on these boards who was appointed by Fischer.

Poynter also noted that the mayor only appoints two of the Tax Appeals Board members — both of whom are white — and said the administration is “working to find more minority appointees” to the all-white Deputy Sheriff Merit Board.

However, a list of new appointees sent to Metro Council by the Fischer administration this week includes African-Americans to several of these boards — one to BOZA, two to the Planning Commission, and two to the yet-to-be-formed NuLu Review Overlay Committee. Poynter said “the public will continue to see more diverse appointees to boards, as evidenced by the two recent nominations to the Planning Commission.”

Councilman James was encouraged by these new nominations, saying, “I think that he gets it, and I think hopefully this will be a trend of things to come in the future.”

Councilwoman Green concurred, saying it seems like after a long period of complaints by council members, the administration is taking their concerns about diversity seriously.

“I’m very happy, and it seems like folks have finally started to get the message that this is something we are taking seriously — that we are pushing back on, that we will table, that we will not pass if we have an issue with the appointments,” said Green. “From my meetings with the administration, everyone has been very open and very interested, and expressed willingness to do and work in harmony. And I will believe until someone shows me otherwise that that is what’s going to happen.”

Green recently met with the administration to talk about her expectations for the appointment process going forward, saying she wants more notice of when vacancies occur and when terms expire, as a larger number are serving on expired terms without the approval of council. There’s also a push to simplify the process of applying for a position.

“If council approval is required, then council wants to know that there is racial, gender and geographic diversity,” said Green. “Our constituents deserve it. It’s just kind of been a joke… We deserve to be able to have a process in which everybody can have access and the chance to be able to represent the city of Louisville on one of our boards that are out there. It’s just a mess.”

Republicans also underrepresented

Though the state statute on the diversity of boards does not explicitly mention party affiliation, many of these panels are lacking Republican representation or are well below the 33 percent they make up in Jefferson County.

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

For example, no Republicans serve on the boards of the Community Action Partnership, Landbank Authority, Mental Health Diversion, Parking Authority of River City, Revenue Commission, Waste Management District, or Vacant Property Review Commission. Only one Republican serves on the boards of the Metro Business Development Corporation, Air Pollution Control District Board, Board of Health, BOZA, Redevelopment Authority Board and PARC.

Councilwoman Denton said it still appears as if one has to be friends of the mayor or people who will do whatever he wants to be appointed to a board, as opposed to what is best for the community.

“You’ve got to be in with the mayor, it would appear, to get what you want,” said Denton. “And the mayor is very picky about who he wants because I think he wants to control what goes on in these boards and commissions. Rather than it being community-driven, it seems to be driven by him.”

Asked about the lack of Republicans on many of these boards, Poynter said that only eight boards require political diversity, one of those being the Air Pollution Control District Board.

Councilwoman Green said that whether or not partisan diversity is legally required, the mayor should try to reflect the diversity of the community across all different demographics in his appointments.

“Yes, there should be Republicans on boards, just like there should be African-Americans and just like there should be Hispanics,” said Green. “I think the administration and the council have an obligation to make sure that there is parity across the board and make sure that people who are registered to all parties have representation on these boards. It does us no good to just place our heads in the sand and just have rich white Democrats who are friends of government on these boards.”

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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]