Under the radar of most political observers, Republican mayoral candidate and Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, flirted with the anti-tolling sentiment among residents in a discussion about the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. Earlier this month, during an appearance on 84 WHAS radio, Heiner made it clear that scaling back the public works project should be an option if paying for it includes hefty tolls.
“If the tolls come back at a high number — some say $2 to $4 tolls — in the end, that will hurt commerce in our community more than building a downtown bridge (will help),” Heiner told radio personality Mandy Connell.
The Heiner campaign says the east Louisville councilman supports the record of decision, but argues that tolling wasn’t part of the original plan. And if moving forward means streamlining the project or reducing its scope, Heiner would favor that approach as opposed to heavy tolls.
“Originally we went into this project (thinking) that there would be no tolls. My sense talking to people is if it’s a small toll, let’s go, (and) if it’s a big toll, build the East End bridge,” Heiner says. “Then let’s figure out how we can collect more federal grant money to address Interstate 65.”
That position differentiates Heiner from his opponent, Democrat Greg Fischer, among anti-tolling organizers, who may swell in numbers once the Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority releases its study on how to pay for both bridges.
“At least Councilman Heiner is willing to draw a line in the sand on this. If the authority gets the tolls they want, it will be the largest tax in Louisville’s history,” says Shawn Reilly, co-founder the Facebook group “Say NO to Bridge Tolls.” “The people who would not normally support a Republican may support one in this race because of this issue. In our view, this is not about Republican or Democrat. It’s about doing what’s right for this city and not going down the path of this $4 billion boondoggle.”
It’s also important to note that during the mayoral primary, only Fischer responded “yes” when asked in a questionnaire drafted by the grassroots transportation group 8664 whether he supported the unpopular method of tolling existing downtown bridges to pay for the project.
“If tolls are necessary, I will push for them to be as small as possible and to be lifted as soon as the project is paid for,” Fischer said in a statement at the time.
In the city, Democrats outnumber GOP registered voters 2-to-1, and that makes Fischer the odds-on favorite to win in the fall. However, for many who are passionate about tolling, Heiner’s candidacy may be worth a second look after such a genuine attempt at courtship.
For the past few months, 32-year-old Phoenix Hill resident Stu Noland has been taking his opposition to the $4.1 billion bridges project to the pavement — literally.
Armed with colored chalk and an activist zeal, he’s adorned downtown sidewalks with messages such as: “If you build it they won’t come and we won’t stay” and “Our river front butchered permanently” in protest to the planned 23-lane expansion of Spaghetti Junction.
Recently, Metro Police detained and cited Noland after a security guard caught him spreading the message near City Hall. During the ordeal, Noland says he was handcuffed and searched for the arsenal of chalk.
“I think it’s safe to say if I was chalking puppies and rainbows no one would have had a problem,” says Noland, founder of Save Louisville, an organization opposed to the massive construction project. “It’s selective enforcement because of the message. I kept saying to the officer, ‘Seriously, guy, chalk?’”
The citation lists a Metro ordinance that puts graffiti under criminal mischief, but only mentions aerosol spray paint, broad-tipped indelible markers or etching acid. The law doesn’t specifically mention the easily removed, powdery crayons under its definitions.
Furthermore, during Earth Day 2003 at the Louisville Zoo, children were allowed to draw on the sidewalk with colored chalk to show ways to prevent water pollution. And during last year’s Idea Festival, no one had a problem when “Sidewalk Picasso” Julian Beever adorned downtown Louisville’s sidewalks with three-dimensional chalk illusions.
Noland plans to fight the citation and is seeking legal counsel. A court hearing is scheduled for June 28.
Since Public Works employee Eric Garrett filed a “whistleblower” lawsuit against Metro government, members of the Metro Council have reportedly received more anonymous e-mails and phone calls about the department. And political observers expect that as Mayor Jerry Abramson’s lame-duck administration limps into the sunset, more and more managerial mishaps will become public.
The suit alleges that in late 2009, Garrett complained to Public Works Director Ted Pullen, claiming the city wasn’t properly maintaining mechanical systems on city-owned buildings. In February 2010, after having no luck with Pullen, he called the city’s anonymous 24/7 ethics tip line to make a report.
After meeting with city officials, however, Garrett was suspended indefinitely and without pay after another Metro employee filed a complaint against him. No further information about that complaint was given to Garrett or his attorney other than he was “being mean” to a colleague.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Garrett has spoken up about screw-ups in a city department. In January 2006, while working as a kennel attendant with Louisville Metro Animal Services, he wrote an open letter to former Director Gilles Meloche, who resigned last year amid a number of controversies and is the subject of two sexual harassment lawsuits.
In e-mails to Meloche, Garrett complains about substandard facilities, low morale among employees and inhumane treatment of animals.
“Appeals for you to soberly assess and deal with our incapacity to support these animals are met by indifference, incompetence and occasionally the farcical pretense of superiority,” Garrett wrote in a follow-up e-mail addressed to “The Masters of Disaster.”
“It’s clear to me that management has no clue what effort and skills and resources are involved in trying to support such a dense concentration of animals, even to keep things reasonably decent,” he wrote.
About six months later, Garrett was transferred to Public Works for an unknown reason, where he apparently continued to be a heroic watchdog to some, an annoying gadfly to others.