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Metro Council to Hire Contractor for Redistricting

The Louisville Metro Council is seeking a contract employee who can operate a computer program that draws new legislative districts based on census data.

The council will still have a say in where district lines are drawn, but the application will make the necessary calculations to ensure the proper number of residents live in each district.

Democratic Councilman Rick Blackwell says once the person is hired and the final data is released by the Census Bureau, the council can begin adjusting the district map. The council’s redistricting committee is split, though, on where to begin. Some members would like to start by expanding districts in west Louisville, where the population has shrunk.

“Some people want to start on that side and start adding people to that district and move east. Others think it might be better to start it on the East End where you have a growth in the population and shave those districts down and move west,” he says.

The council briefly considered bringing in an outside expert to help redraw the districts and make sure neighborhoods were not split by the new lines. Blackwell says a council workgroup since decided against that step, though the contractor may have expertise in redistricting as well.

“I think most of the council members feel like we’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the districts, we’ve got a good knowledge of the neighborhoods and the interest groups in our areas,” he says.

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Here and Now Thursday: Judy Green’s Ethics Hearing, Southern Storms, Veracity in Creative Nonfiction

Here’s what we have planned for today at 1pm: A hearing into allegations surrounding Metro Councilwoman Judy Green is underway at this hour at Metro Hall. WFPL’s Political Editor Phillip M. Bailey is there covering the hearing live on our Twitter feed @wfplnews and he’ll speak with us live to bring us up to speed.

The death toll is still climbing as search and recovery efforts continue in five southern states after a series of tornadoes swept through yesterday. More than 120 people were killed in Alabama alone. We’ll get the latest from the scene, and some perspective on these storms.

And as news surfaces today of more inaccuracies in Greg Mortenson’s book “Three Cups of Tea,” we’ll talk to a Kentucky author about the sometimes complicated relationship between storytelling and truthtelling.

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Cunningham Concerned What Redistricting Will Mean for Diversity on Metro Council

Louisville civil rights leaders are concerned that dwindling numbers in historically African-American neighborhoods will diminish minority representation in Metro Government.

There are currently six African-Americans on the council, and Louisville NAACP president Raoul Cunningham says the districts were first drawn to ensure that number. But the 2010 Census shows that while Louisville’s minority population increased, parts of the predominantly-black West End have shrunk over the last decade.

The Metro Council is preparing to redraw its districts for the first time since merger. Cunningham says he’s waiting for more detailed census information to see how diluted the black population in the new districts will be and whether that will change the racial makeup of the council.

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Legislation Takes Aim at Council Spending in Election Years

The Louisville Metro Council is poised to place tighter regulations on the discretionary funds members have to distribute. The increased oversight comes after Councilwoman Judy Green was accused of misusing her district’s funds. But one councilmember says there are other ways discretionary spending can be abused.

Councilman Jon Ackerson says outgoing council members have, in the past, exhausted their $75,000 neighborhood development funds before leaving office, giving the incoming councilmember no money to spend on neighborhood projects until July, when the next fiscal year begins. He’s proposed a measure that would stop incumbents from spending half of their discretionary funds in election years. He says the measure is not related to the allegations against Councilwoman Green. He further says it’s not a response to claims that incumbents have used the funds on projects that improve their image during re-election campaigns.

“I would hope no council member would use public money to get themselves elected or reelected, but this could certainly restrict that” he says. “It wouldn’t eliminate it. But it would restrict it.”

Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh says she’s not sure if she supports the measure, because the regulation may not be necessary.

“The appropriations committee will ask the questions to determine whether or not this really is, ‘I’m going out office to spend all my money so my successor doesn’t have it,’ or, ‘This is something I’ve been planning on for two years and just because I didn’t get reelected doesn’t mean I shouldn’t move forward with it,” she says.

In response to the allegations against Green, Ward-Pugh supports giving the Office of Management and Budget oversight over discretionary spending.

Other council members have suggested that the mayor reduce discretionary funds.

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Budget Committee to Discuss Change to Business Tax Policy

The Louisville Metro Council Budget committee will meet Thursday to discuss tax policy.

The meeting will focus on whether businesses that lose money in a given year should be allowed to deduct the loss from the next year’s profits. For example, if a business loses $1 million one year, then makes $1 million the next year, the business would not pay tax on any income in the profitable year.

Councilman Ken Fleming says it will allow businesses of all sizes to pay less money in taxes as they recover from bad business years.

Opponents say Metro Government will lose money if the deductions are allowed. Fleming says that’s not necessarily the case.

“Will it delay some revenues? Yes, it probably will delay some revenues for Metro Government,” he says. “But if you look at it in terms of having extra cash for businesses to hire new employees or buy new equipment, well, bringing a new employee, that employee will pay payroll taxes. And if you buy new equipment, you’ll pay property taxes.”

Opponents further say there’s no guarantee savings will be reinvested.

For the deductions to be allowed on the city level, the General Assembly would have to change state law. Fleming has drafted a resolution encouraging it to do so.

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Council Committee to Review Audit of District Office Funds

The Louisville Metro Council’s Government Accountability and Ethics committee will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) to review an internal audit of the council’s business practices.

The audit was ordered last year and does not look in-depth at how council members spent the $175,000 in neighborhood development and community infrastructure funds allocated to each district every year. The funds have been a contentious topic in recent weeks, as Councilwoman Judy Green faces ethics charges that she misappropriated city allocations.

Committee chair Tina Ward-Pugh says the audit focuses mainly on how each council member spent the money they receive for the day-to-day operations of their offices.

“So that included the $30,000 cost centers that each of us have, the payroll—which includes all of us—but it did not include NDF [neighborhood discretionary funds] or CIF [community infrastructure funds], but it did conclude that that be looked at in the future,” she says.

Ward-Pugh says like the neighborhood and community infrastructure grants, business expenses could likely be under tighter oversight. The committee will consider new regulations on the grants next month.

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Council Members Differ on Discretionary Fund Limits, Regulation

The Louisville Metro Council will likely take action in the coming weeks to further regulate grants from two funds used by council members to finance projects and organizations in their districts. But lawmakers disagree over how best to prevent abuse.

At least one council member has asked the mayor to cut the $175,000 that members can allocate each year. However, other council members have pushed to give the Office of Management and Budget oversight of each grant rather than cut the funds.

Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh supports the latter option. She says her colleagues who hope to cut the funds represent wealthier districts that can function without city grants to pave sidewalks or fund community groups.

“They are primarily people who already have two or four or eleven or sixteen smaller cities in their districts who handle sidewalks and paving and streets and paving and recycling,” she says.

The calls to regulate the grant funds grew louder this month, after Councilwoman Judy Green was accused of misappropriating city dollars.

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Peden Says Issues Other Than Tornado Siren Silence Prompted Call for MetroSafe Audit

Louisville Metro Councilman James Peden says it was more than a botched tornado warning that led him to ask for an audit of MetroSafe.

Peden and his vice chair on the council’s Public Safety committee, Councilman David James, sent a letter to Mayor Greg Fischer’s office requesting the audit Tuesday. Peden says he and James have a number of issues with MetroSafe, many of them stemming from redundancies and inefficiencies in how the agency operates.

Peden says he decided to formally request the audit, though, after seeing MetroSafe’s response to civil defense sirens that failed to sound during a tornado warning. After first blaming faulty equipment, MetroSafe officials said two employees could have turned on the sirens manually.

“Falling on the sword or pushed on the sword, I don’t know,” he says. “If we had been a little more forthcoming, if MetroSafe had been a little more forthcoming at the beginning of that issue, the letter may not have been written.”

The mayor’s office says MetroSafe will be audited, along with every other city agency, as part of Mayor Greg Fischer’s plans for his first term. Peden says the MetroSafe audit should be made a priority.

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Council Committee to Review Grant Process Wednesday

As planned, a Louisville Metro Council panel will soon consider changing the way money allocated by the council is tracked.

The Government Accountability and Ethics committee will review the allocation process at its meeting Wednesday. Committee chair Tina Ward-Pugh has asked the city’s internal auditor and chief financial officer to attend and discuss any potential changes to how the money is accounted for.

The review comes after Councilwoman Judy Green was accused of using a grant-funded summer jobs program to benefit members of her family. Ward-Pugh and Council President Jim King both told WFPL last week that there needs to be more oversight of the grants. King has ordered an audit of all grants over $5,000 from the last two years.

The Metro Ethics Commission will hold a hearing on a ethics complaint about Green’s summer jobs program Thursday.

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Mayor’s Office Says MetroSafe Audit Was Planned, Will Be Conducted

Two members of the Louisville Metro Council have asked for an audit of MetroSafe, following the recent failure of the civil defense sirens during a tornado warning. The mayor’s office will conduct the audit, but not necessarily because of the request.

Even though MetroSafe officials say they’ve fixed any issues with the sirens, the heads of the council’s Public Safety committee requested the audit. In a statement, councilmen James Peden and David James say there have been numerous concerns with MetroSafe, and an audit is long-overdue.

Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokesperson Chris Poynter says the audit has been planned since day one of Fischer’s time in office, since the mayor plans to review every department.

“We have audits going on for the Planning and Design department we announced recently, for Animal Services and also for the Public Works department. We already have three ongoing and we will be announcing more in the coming months,” he says.

Poynter says he’s not sure when the MetroSafe audit will begin, but adds that the council members’ request will not likely change the timeline.

“We appreciate the council’s concerns and we will be auditing MetroSafe. The concerns over the sirens—we had a problem, we did an investigation and we corrected the action. So we’re pretty confident that the sirens being silent will never happen again.”