Perhaps the biggest achievement in Jerry Abramson’s tenure as Louisville mayor has been heralding and then shepherding the merger of the former city and county governments. WFPL’s Stephanie Crosby has a report on the current state of merged government, and expectations for Abramson’s successor.
Shively Mayor Sherry Conner’s office is filled with the ringing of her phone.
“You don’t pick their garbage up – I get a phone call,” says Conner. ” ‘Garbage man at nine o’clock hasn’t been by my house yet, are they going to pick up garbage today?’ Yeah, they’re just, maybe running a little… now I’m serious, those are the kind of phone calls we get here.”
Conner says its one of the reasons Shively residents like living in a smaller, third-class city.
“They’re not going to call downtown and get a hold of Jerry. Jerry’s not going to them back,” she says. “No offense to Jerry, but he’s just got bigger fish to fry than to call people back all the time.”
Conner became Mayor of Shively shortly after the 2003 merger, and has been searching for a benefit to the city ever since.
“I will be honest with you, I did not vote for merger because I did not know what it was going to do for Shively,” Conner says.
Shively has its own taxes for residents, and they pay for their own police, fire department, garbage pickup, EMS and public works.
“But we also pay a lot of tax money to Metro Louisville,” says Conner, “and, you know, I’m not sure always what we get for that money.”
That concern is shared by a number of people in small cities, and there are also little wrinkles that are still being hammered out, like who mows the grass in that lone median. Stan Curtis has worked as liaison to those suburban cities for the Abramson administration since merger.
“Some of the laws don’t make any sense,” says Curtis. “Where you come to an intersection, and you can only shovel one road in the four-road intersection because it’s a city road or a county road or whatever. And those things that to be worked out among common-sense leaders who work together all the time.”
Curtis gets paid one-dollar a year to field calls from various mayors or small city officials who need to coordinate with someone in Metro Government to get something done. He says it’s gotten easier as the seven years have passed.
“I think a lot of the mayors – not a lot of them – I think a handful of them were against merger,” says Curtin. “I think a handful of them are now convinced it was the right thing to do.”
Byron Chapman is one of them. As a long-time Middletown council member, he was opposed to merger. He became the city’s mayor in the same election merger was approved, and has since come to believe it was a good idea.
Chapman is also the president of the Jefferson County League of Cities, which represents all those suburban cities from Jeffersontown to Mockingbird Valley. He thinks it’s all worked in the end because of one man.
“I think we had – we do have – a dynamic mayor, Mayor Abramson, that was able to pull it together,” says Chapman.
It’s hard to argue the number one proponent of merger has been anyone other than Jerry Abramson. Chapman says working with the new government has always been easy, and the door has always been open. But will that still be the case with the next Metro Mayor?
“The League has never wanted more services than any of the other areas, but we don’t want any less,” says Chapman. “So, that’s our concern, it’s just to make sure that the new Metro mayor that will be elected next year realizes our desires and concerns.”
Chapman’s term as League president runs out in February, but in the meantime he’s working to organize a panel discussion of mayoral candidates before the Jefferson County League of Cities, to gauge their opinions on merger and the relationship between Metro Government and the suburban cities.
“There’s about 40-percent of the voting public, I understand, in Metro government, are in one of the many small cities,” says Chapman, “so we have a pretty strong voice – or should have.”