(Editor’s note: Terry Boyd also contributed to this post.)
At Insider Louisville, we stay so busy gathering information from our well-placed insiders that sometimes, it’s hard to look back.
When we get a chance to catch our breath, we go back over past posts and relay any new information we’ve found.
Here are some updates to a few of our most popular stories.
• Insider Louisville is the only entity in the state that has offered ongoing coverage of the Carbide Industries disaster.
No one has gathered more news on the subject than we have. Since the March, 2011 explosion we have been asking questions about exactly what happened, and we’ve been following the company’s efforts to rebuild.
We received the report from the state agency responsible for investigating the blast that killed two workers at the aged calcium carbide factory in Louisville’s Rubbertown area. The report details a culture of complacency and a lack of training, housekeeping and maintenance that led to hazardous conditions throughout the facility.
Carbide Industries, LLC received state tax incentives worth $6.5 million dollars and an unknown amount in local “tax inducements” to rebuild the destroyed furnace while simultaneously being fined by the state Labor Cabinet for the “willful, serious violation” leading to worker deaths including the company willfully neglecting to maintain the furnace that blew up, running it 29 years without a rebuild.
UPDATE: In June 2012, Carbide was featured in a video produced by LG&E/KU’s PR department for a series called “Business in your Backyard.” In it, plant manager John Gant acts as though the furnace explosion was a routine event and credits the local electric utility with saving the business.
Says Gant, “We would not have rebuilt, probably, without the cooperation with LG&E”.
• Last spring we told you about Joey Sears, the now-former Louisville Metro Parks employee who claims he was fired for blowing the whistle on Metro Parks Director Mike Heitz’s habitual drinking and driving while in a city vehicle.
Sears said his complaint was not investigated, so he called on WAVE 3’s “Troubleshooter”. WAVE 3 camera crews caught Heitz drinking and driving in his city-provided, taxpayer-funded SUV.
Sears was terminated for an unrelated offense that he suspects was in retaliation for his whistleblowing.
Sears received state unemployment benefits after winning an appeal against Metro Parks at the state level.
The city had one remaining remedy- to sue in civil court. They did, and in a stunning development, they won.
UPDATE: Sears now is being ordered to repay nearly $9,000 in unemployment benefits.
The state gave him 10 days to pay up.
The lawsuit by Metro Government was shocking because the city has a history of willingly paying unemployment benefits to people like Kimberly Bunton and Gilles Meloche after they had resigned from their respective positions amid allegations of corruption and wrongdoing.
In other words, the city voluntarily paid people who did not deserve unemployment benefits, and fought those who did.
A Courier-Journal article about the appointments offered no clear angle on exactly why the appointments occurred or why they were significant.
The release touting the appointments is as vague as the group’s mission: “The purpose of the fellowship program is to provide city leaders with the insights, peer-to-peer learning, and analysis they need to successfully build and sustain their cities.”
The release also uses the phrases “best practices” and “empower leaders” (We would assume if people are “leaders,” they are already “empowered”).
Critics describe the Urban Land Institute as an organization of elitists who advocate development of things like “workforce housing” as a way to move poor people away from areas deemed to be fit for gentrification, citing the group’s work in post-Katrina New Orleans as a long time coming.
To wit: A 1989 study by the Urban Land Institute says “the problem … is the infusion of large numbers of the minority communities on Canal Street”. In 1998, another ULI study concludes that “both residents and tourists are intimidated by the presence of large groups of young black people on Canal Street.”
Both studies were commissioned by the Downtown Development District of New Orleans.
The solution, according to ULI, was to move bus stops away from Canal Street and reroute the entire public transit system to make white people who are on vacation feel more comfortable.
That doesn’t sound like an association our mayor should be involved with, particularly given the state of public transit and the prevalence of segregated communities in Louisville.
• We told you early and often about the untenable debt the city and state have related to the $349 million KFC Yum! Center. A lot of details about the contract between the Louisville Arena Authority, which owns the stadium, and the arena’s tenant, the University of Louisville Athletic Association, were never covered by the conventional media when plans were coming together circa 2004.
Such as the fact U of L has the right to buy the arena in the event of a default. Which, while unlikely, is not impossible.
Also, neither the Courier-Journal nor Business First ever reported that the debt issue for KFC Yum! Arena contains two bond tranches paying very high yields. Two Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority bonds totalling $30 million pay bond holders 7 percent and 8.25 percent interest respectively at a time when Aaa-rated corporate bonds pay 3 percent. Those high yields add about $2.5 million annually to bond servicing costs.
UPDATE: Our sources are telling us Arena Authority officials are planning to refinance those bonds, both of which are callable. That could knock at least $1 million off the annual cost of servicing arena debt. But refinancing $30 million in debt comes with costs, as every homeowner who’s refinanced a mortgage knows. In the case of municipal debt, the bond holders are paid a premium when the callable bonds are redeemed. And it’s not clear that anyone will be willing to buy the repriced debt.
A story that’s not going to go away any time soon.