Issue July 29, 2009

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

The Metro Council is stuffing its usual protestations in order to get out of the way of the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. It’s the only explanation of why council members who regularly complain about transparency, rushed votes and bullying hurried a resolution that gives the mayor and governor the power to appoint members to the bistate authority without significant inquiry through committee last week.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, dominated the 45-minute meeting. Repeating a variation of the phrase “There is no reason for delay” without offering much reasoning to his point, the chief sponsor of the bridges resolution filled a majority of the air in the room, resulting in virtually no actual discussion.

The resolution — co-sponsored by President David Tandy, D-4 — would create a local bridges authority with decision-making powers on how to finance the project, including the cost of tolls. Included is a request for one person on the authority to be a council member. The mayor has said he would consider it, but made no promises. A competing resolution, co-sponsored by Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, and Tom Owen, D-8, which asked for more public hearings, was summarily rejected in less than five minutes.

So much for openness and transparency.

After the vote, while supporters of the bridges project were busy giving each other high-fives, a few council members left the chambers saddled with more questions than answers.

“How are we going to pay for this? Before, we’d been talking for years the federal government was going to pick up the tab,” said Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, adding there’s no reason for the council to rush. “I have to presume worst-case scenario that it’s going to end up being tolling. And tolling is a huge tax, and Jefferson County will carry the burden of that.”

Ackerson indicated he might vote against the Kramer-Tandy resolution, but said he believes it will be steamrolled through at Thursday’s council meeting.

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No one will share the details of why council Democrats decided to suspend their caucus director for a full week, but there’s certainly disagreement and friction about how their diverse 16-member caucus is being run.

Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15, who chairs the caucus’s personnel committee, confirmed that majority caucus director Kenya McGruder, who last year served as state director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and has been in her position since late 2005, received a five-day suspension. But Butler said it is an internal matter she would not discuss.

McGruder was unavailable for comment.

Sources say the five-member personnel committee was set to fire McGruder, but Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, suggested suspension as a compromise. Council Democrats have butted heads over their partisan staff before, and this latest upheaval appears to have been brewing for a while.

We are told Democrats who favored McGruder’s ouster believe she’s neglected her duties. Supporters say Democratic council members don’t coordinate with their caucus staff well enough, and leave them in the dark with no sense of direction or leadership.

Since Metro government formed in 2003, Republicans have kept the same caucus director, while Democrats have had three in that position. Call it the price of a consistent majority.

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Despite having sponsored two controversial resolutions, Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, was missing in action for both of her committee meetings last week. She was still on vacation when Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, D-5, made an amendment to broaden Green’s resolution to rename all of 34th Street in honor of the Rev. Louis Coleman.

And no one knew where Green was at the start of last week’s community affairs meeting, which was scheduled to debate her saggy pants resolution (for which no other council members even bothered to show up). Councilman Bob Henderson, D-14, who chairs the committee, decided to forward the measure to the next full council meeting.

“I didn’t hear from the sponsor that she wouldn’t be here. It seems like the only way you can have a hearing is to go to the full council,” he said.

Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt hadn’t talked to Green about the measure until after the meeting adjourned. The councilwoman wanted to hold the resolution in committee until August, Hyatt said, but it was a miscommunication between Green’s office and Henderson that led to the empty committee meeting.

At this point council Democrats are split on supporting legislation that provides fashion tips and encourages young people to pull up their pants. It’s an anemic, non-binding resolution, and some council members don’t get the point.

“I’m not for doing something that isn’t going to do much,” said Councilman George Unseld, D-6. “I want to hear other bits of the conversation about it.”