Council Members Question Whether Donor Pulls Strings in Fischer Administration

by admin on December 15, 2011

The caucus leaders of the Louisville Metro Council have asked Mayor Greg Fischer to clarify the role of high-profile contributor Tommy Elliott in making mayoral appointments. And some city lawmakers could also request Elliott testify before the government accountability committee next year.

Elliott donated $2,000 to Fischer’s election campaign last year and also served as co-chair of his inauguration committee. And though the Old National Bank Senior Vice President and Kentucky Retirement Systems board member is not part of the Fischer administration, a Metro employee or a city consultant, the mayor calls Elliott an adviser on matters such as re-opening the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park.

In a May 19 memo, council members Kelly Downard, R-16, and Ken Fleming, R-7, inquired about appointments to local fire boards. The initial message was also sent to Elliott because potential appointees said he was the administration’s contact person for appointments and was deciding who would receive nominations.

A June 8 memo sent to the mayor’s office signed by Fleming and Councilwoman Madonna Flood, D-24, requested a comprehensive list of all mayoral appointees made since Fischer took office. The message also addressed Elliott’s role in the decision-making process and asked that he testify before the appropriate committee.

“While we appreciate the work that Rhonda Williams has done in presenting mayoral appointees to the Metro Council, it is our understanding that Tommy Elliott is actually leading the appoint process on your behalf,” Fleming and Flood wrote. “If that is accurate, we believe Mr. Elliott is the individual who should be present at the Contracts and Appointments Committee meetings to discuss appointments and answer any questions from the committee members.”

Fleming says council members have taken a renewed interest in Elliot’s role in the administration, particularly after it was revealed that the Louisville banker helped funnel funds meant for Fischer’s inauguration to help repay the mayor’s personal debt to the campaign.

“Given the role that he has played, I think it causes a red flag on the role and the responsibility he has from the inauguration to raising funds to possibly helping out retiring the debt as well as coordinating the boards and commissions. The council is starting to become aware of that and being rather concerned,” he says.

Fleming says the administration has failed to respond to the council’s inquiry, but given the recent controversy, he believes Elliot should also testify before the council’s Government Accountability and Ethics Committee once its new members are named next year.

Flood says the administration has addressed the criteria of appointees since the memorandum was sent this summer, but isn’t sure if Elliott needs to testify before lawmakers as a result of the contribution controversy.

“I have not seen Mayor Fischer’s financial records for his candidacy so I’m not a good person to comment on who gave what money to who,” she says. “We all as elected officials have to answer to the board of finance in Frankfort and it’s up to each of us to know what’s proper and not proper to do.”

In the past two weeks, Fischer has also been under scrutiny for using funds meant for his inauguration celebration to pay down his personal campaign loans, including money from donors who are doing business with the city. According to the state’s election finance records, the mayor has collected more than $21,000 since taking office in January to pay off the debt.

In December 2010, Elliott wrote an e-mail telling the staff of Louisville businessman Ed Hart to make checks out to Fischer’s inauguration, but a week later he sent another message asking contributors to writes checks to the mayor’s election campaign instead.

Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter says Elliott did have a role in finding nominees and helping make appointments, but no longer serves in that role.

“Tommy was helping identify talent,” he says. “He was a friend of the mayor and a volunteer who did a good job. It wasn’t a daily thing or a weekly thing. And if you look at the appointments, it was a very broad and diverse group of people.”

The mayor has also continued to raise and receive donations to pay off the debt from individuals who are doing business with Metro Government, including a lobbyist for Insight Communications, which is currently in tough negotiations with the city over a franchise agreement.

From the Courier-Journal:

…(A)n invitation to a Fischer fundraiser held in Lexington on Nov. 29 — at the home of Insight Communications lobbyist David Whitehouse.

When asked about the event, Fischer initially called the fundraiser a “reception” and said, “I did not solicit money there.” He also said that his campaign “did not send (the invitations) out.”

When it was pointed out that the invitations say “Paid for by Greg Fischer for Mayor,” Fischer responded: “I did not see that and I do not know that.”

The mayor has maintained that his donations have not affected his decisions or his ability to govern, but council members are beginning to ask more questions.

“If  an individual is in charge of fundraising or the inauguration or retiring the debt, those sorts of things you can start looking at exactly where’s the pay back? If that’s the case, then we ought to look at and see exactly how much money went to the mayor’s campaign and compare that to the number of people who were appointed,” says Fleming.

Asked if the perception of the mayor continuing to raise money to lower his personal debt, Fischer’s spokesman says the mayor isn’t personally seeking contributions and the administration doesn’t see it as a major issue.

“The council can call folks before the government accountability office. But if you look at what Mr. Elliott did was he brought us a great diversity of people. All you have to do is look at the numbers and people to see what a good job that he did. He got paid nothing, he was a good citizen volunteer,” says Poynter.

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