Local News

Construction Begins on Big Four Bridge Re-decking

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held on the Big Four Bridge today.  Construction will now begin on re-decking the old railroad bridge across the Ohio River.

Congressman John Yarmuth congratulated Governor Beshear, Louisville Mayor Fischer and Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan for their teamwork on getting the project started.

“This will be something that will bring us closer together, will stimulate economic activity on both sides of the river and will mean so much to our citizens just  in terms of the quality of life.”

Governor Beshear also made a commitment on making this the first step in a larger endeavor.

“I want to stand here and assure you right now, not only are we going to finishe the big four bridge project, we are going to build the Ohio River Bridges and finish that project.”

When the work is completed, the Big Four Bridge will be the longest pedestrian bridge over water in the United States.   Officials say it will eliminate the need for a pedestrian walkway on a new downtown bridge over the Ohio River and reduce costs for that project. You can read about the Big Four financing plan here.

Governor Beshear and Mayor Fischer later appeared at the Old Fort Nelson building at 8th and Main streets to announce the creation of a Michter’s Whiskey distillery.

Local News Next Louisville Politics

States To Finance Big Four Bridge Renovations

David Karem (photo by Dalton Main)The Kentucky and Indiana state governments have agreed to put a total of $20 million toward renovating a rusting railroad bridge between Louisville and Jeffersonville.

The Big Four Bridge has long been slated to be converted to a pedestrian span, but money to put a walkable surface on the bridge has not been available. Waterfront Development Corporation president David Karem says a portion of the funds will be available soon to start preparing the bridge for resurfacing.

“We’ve been working with the transportation cabinet and they will help us access part of this money this spring. The first thing we’ll be doing is removing all the railroad ties off the bridge. We’ll be doing repair work that needs to be done on the bridge,” he says. “We’re working right now on the bid documents, and they should be out. Literally, within a week or so we’ll actually start bidding the work on the demolition and the repair work on the bridge.”

The rest of the money will be released this summer, and the entire project is slated to be complete by 2013. The City of Jeffersonville will put $2 million toward building a ramp on the Indiana side of the span. Louisville’s ramp has already been built using donated money.

If proposed changes to the Ohio River Bridges Project go through, the Big Four Bridge will take the place of previously planned pedestrian lanes on a new downtown bridge.

Local News Politics

Education Commissioner Receives Positive Review

A year ago, he was the 2009 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year.  Now, after one year on the job as Kentucky’s Education Commissioner, Terry Holliday is getting rave reviews from the State School Board.  But Chairman David Karem says in the current economy, the board isn’t able to give Holliday a raise.

“I don’t think he would take a pay raise at this point in time,” says Karem. “And I frankly admire him for that, because while we’re not staffing up as much as we like, and we’re having furlough days and things of that sort, I think he feels, and we all feel, that would not be appropriate at this time.”

Holliday has a four-year contract that pays him $225,000 per year.  Holliday replaced former Commissioner Jon Draud who resigned for health reasons.

Local News

Karem Elected State School Board Chairman

Former Senate Majority Leader David Karem of Louisville is the new chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education.  Karem was the board’s unanimous choice to succeed former chairman Joe Brothers. 

Karem is a strong education advocate who helped steer the Kentucky Education Reform Act through the 1990 General Assembly. 

“There isn’t anything more important in the state of Kentucky than public education.  This is the biggest issue we can deal with and it’s an honor that the board would ask me to serve as chairman,” Karem said.

Karem is also the president and executive director of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation.

Dorie Combs of Richmond and C-B Akins of Lexington will serve as vice-chairs of the school board.   The board is also getting to know five new members appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear.  The 11 voting members of the board are now all Beshear appointees.

(Photo courtesy of Kentucky Legislative Research Commission)

In-Depth News Local News

Karem Appointment Challenged

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

In a little-noticed skirmish in the Kentucky House this week, a surprise attempt was made to derail the appointment of a Democratic former state senator to the Kentucky Board of Education.

The 11 voting members of the Kentucky Board of Education are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. Confirmations usually pass quietly, with little debate. But occasionally, an appointee will run into trouble. Last year, without comment, the Senate refused to consider the appointment of former Jefferson County Teachers Association director Steve Neal. In his place, Gov. Beshear appointed former Senate Majority Leader David Karem (pictured).

A resolution confirming Karem’s appointment to the school board, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, is getting legislative scrutiny in Frankfort.

Karem was appointed to a four-year term on the school board, and has been serving since last April. During his 33 years in the General Assembly, Karem was a strong education advocate and a driving force behind passage of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. So, it was a surprise to many House members when Republican Rep. Jim DeCesare of Rockfield rose to challenge Karem’s appointment. Citing state law, DeCesare says Karem has a conflict of interest because of his position as director of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation.

“The Waterfront Development Board is an entity of the City of Louisville, the County of Jefferson and the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” says DeCesare. “So, it’s my opinion, Mr. Speaker, he does not meet the qualifications, due to his employment.”

Scrambling to counter the argument, Majority Leader Adkins produced a 1995 attorney general’s opinion allowing Karem to serve as both a state senator and director of the Waterfront Development Corporation.

“That opinion, Mr. Speaker, held that since the director did not make policy for the corporation, it was not the type of office covered by the constitutional provisions prohibiting the holding of both a state and a city office,” says Adkins.

That was good enough for most House members, who voted 92-7 to confirm Karem’s appointment. All seven opponents, including Rep. Joseph Fischer of Ft. Thomas, are Republicans. Fischer, like Rep. DeCesare, says it’s nothing personal against Karem.

“A very outstanding legislator, lawmaker, civic leader,” says Fischer. “But the question is, did that service create a conflict with his appointment to the board of education?”

Karem doesn’t think so. In fact, he says there’s not just one legal opinion protecting his service on the Waterfront Development Corporation – there are two.

“Two separate attorney generals came to the same conclusion,” says Karem.

The 66-year-old Karem says he just wants to continue serving the people of the commonwealth, and one of the most productive ways to do that is to complete his term on the school board.

“The kids in the state of Kentucky are our absolutely single most important resource,” says Karem. “So anything we can do to insure kids get the best possible education is a needed public service.”

State Board of Education Chairman Joe Brothers says the seven Republicans who opposed Karem’s appointment are certainly within their rights, but the rest of the House voiced overwhelming support for Karem, whom Brothers says is doing a great job.

“He is very knowledgeable and has excellent background for the assignment,” says Brothers. “As far as his service on the board, it’s been exemplary.”

Gov. Beshear echoes that, reaffirming his support for Karem’s confirmation, which now moves to the Senate.