by Gabe Bullard
In our report on where Louisville stands seven years after the city/county merger, we heard some views on whether merger has been meeting expectations. (Listen Here) In the second and final segment of our series, WFPL’s Gabe Bullard gathers some perspectives on how some of the unmet expectations might be fulfilled.
One of the more vocal proponents of merger was former County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson, who, by supporting the consolidation of city and county governments, made her job obsolete.
“That’s why I ran for County Judge Executive, was to get rid of the job,” she says. “It was probably the worst job I have ever had and it was worthy of ridding the community of.”
Once the city and county came together, Jackson and then-city mayor David Armstrong left the government.
“The reason I didn’t run for mayor was that I truly believed the new government should have a new face and it shouldn’t be someone who was tied to either the old city or the old county government,” she says. “Obviously Jerry Abramson had a different idea.”
Abramson says he was asked to run to for mayor of the merged government. And Jackson acknowledges that his experience probably helped stabilize the new government in its first few years. But now, seven years later, with Abramson seeking state office and 13 Metro Council seats up for election, she says it’s time for new leadership to help fulfill the bigger promises of merger, such as leveling the playing field when it comes to distribution of economic development and other opportunities.
“I think if we get a new face in there and we will get a new person in there, I think that person has an opportunity to take us in a brand new direction,” she says.
But some Louisvillians say they aren’t as optimistic…From the front of his copier repair business in Valley Station, Tim Keith can see the line that splits his neighborhood.
“Dixie Highway is the dividing line,” says Keith. “That side’s District 14, this side is district 25.”
The border between Metro Council districts in southwestern Louisville speaks to Keith’s frustrations with merged government. He says the way the districts are drawn makes it hard for council members to focus on single neighborhoods like Valley Station.
“It has not brought about a sense of community,” he says. “We still don’t feel like we’re part of Louisville any more than we did before.”
Keith says Valley Station needs more businesses and jobs, but there’s no unified group or representative to lobby on its behalf.
Ideally, he says, the mayor of merged government would fill that role for Valley Station and every neighborhood…One argument for merger was that it would make government more like a business, with an executive in the mayor’s office and a team of managers heading up various departments and delivering shared prosperity.
“I think we still haven’t decided what it is we’re trying to do. We don’t really know what our agenda is,” says U of L professor Dr. Ronald Vogel.
Vogel has studied merger and given it poor grades for performance thus far. He says if the mayor is to deliver prosperity across the Metro, there needs to be a clear plan for doing so.
“The other day I wanted to have my class look up Louisville’s economic development strategy and I can’t find a document that says, ‘This is my economic development strategy,'” says Vogel.
If Mayor Abramson’s last two terms have been a breaking-in period for merger, then Vogel says it will be up to the next leader to set goals and prove merger’s value.
“Until we really say issue by issue or problem by problem, ‘What are we going to do about this?’ I can’t see how we make progress,” he says.