Issue July 28, 2010

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

In the race for mayor of Louisville, it appears Democrat Greg Fischer is launching a negative campaign against Republican Hal Heiner, painting the city lawmaker as a right-wing extremist.

At last week’s mayoral debate at Bellarmine University, both candidates were in attack mode. But in the end, Fischer’s jabs proved to be much more scathing.

During one particularly heated exchange, Fischer asked the east Louisville councilman about his appearance at a Tea Party rally during the GOP primary, whether he supports Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul, and what his position is on expanded gaming in Kentucky.

“My focus is on my campaign for mayor, my vision on where this community can go,” Heiner said, responding to the Paul question. “And talking about other candidates and other campaigns is irrelevant to this campaign and, quite frankly, a waste of time.”

While Fischer has pledged not to use negative television ads or mailers, sources say his campaign is conducting a poll to question voters about the fact that Heiner opposed the Fairness ordinance, has scoffed at global warming and is a Metro government insider.

After city and county governments merged in 2003, the newly formed Metro Council had to reauthorize the Fairness ordinance, which was passed in 1999 by the Louisville Board of Alderman. In December 2004, Heiner voted against the historic city bill, which prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.

It’s a vote the Fischer campaign is likely to highlight, but Joe Burgan, Heiner’s campaign manager, says that as mayor, Heiner will enforce the ordinance.

Perhaps fearing his Republican opponent is making in-roads with some Democrats due to his apparent flexibility on the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, the Fischer poll also gauges support for the massive public works project.

The Fischer campaign confirms polling is under way, but will not elaborate on specific questions.

“The reality is Greg Fischer and Hal Heiner are two very different people. Their world views are very different,” says Chris Poynter, a Fischer campaign spokesman. “Greg is centrist, and always has been. Hal tends to be outside the mainstream of Louisville.”

According to political observers, the injection of buzzwords, state politics and Rand Paul into the race this early indicates the Louisville businessman is a bit worried that his GOP opponent could be outpacing him, even though Democrats outnumber registered Republican voters two-to-one in Louisville.

“My observation of Fischer is remembering how he ran his (2008 Senate) primary campaign against Bruce Lunsford, and it was a viciously negative campaign,” says Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist. “And Fischer strikes me as the kind of guy who wants a title so bad that he’ll use those type of tactics, and he’s got a record of highly partisan campaigns.”

But Poynter argues, “Pointing out differences is not negative campaigning. We do polling just like Heiner and just like any campaign does. It’s a natural part of the race, and polling helps you understand what’s important in the public’s mind.”

•••

The “whistleblower” lawsuit Metro Public Works employee Eric Garrett filed against the city continues to plague Mayor Jerry Abramson’s administration, and the city’s latest maneuver suggests a person must be crazy to squeal on management.

In June, Garrett filed a civil suit alleging he was suspended for complaining about supposed mismanagement and financial waste in the department. Back in 2009, he complained to Public Works Director Ted Pullen that the city wasn’t properly maintaining mechanical systems on city-owned buildings.

Last week, LEO learned Metro government is requiring Garrett to undergo psychiatric testing or lose his job. In a motion filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, Shane Sidebottom, Garrett’s attorney, asked a judge to prohibit the city from ordering his client to take a mental health exam before returning to work.

“They’re trying to get my client to go to a psychiatrist who specializes in criminal forensics to determine if he’s criminally insane,” Sidebottom tells LEO Weekly. “And if he doesn’t go, they’re going to charge him with insubordination so they can fire him.”

The evaluation order was issued four days after the retaliation lawsuit against the city was filed and, among other things, it would require a criminal investigator to be present, which Sidebottom claims is an invasion of his privacy.

However, in a letter sent to Sidebottom, Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Mark Miller says the city has the discretion to determine when and under what circumstances an employee can be required to appear for a “fitness test,” adding that no justification is required for such referrals.

“Mr. Garrett controls when, and if, he will return to work by deciding whether or not he will appear for the fitness for duty evaluation,” Mill wrote. “Continued failure to appear for the evaluation may be deemed insubordination.”

The city’s personnel policy does say a fitness exam can be conducted after an employee returns from medical leave, but Sidebottom argues his client was suspended from work after lodging a complaint, which is a different circumstance altogether.

In February 2010, unsatisfied with how his complaint was handled by the director of Public Works, Garrett called the city’s anonymous 24/7 ethics tip line.

Just a week after meeting with city officials about alleged negligence in Public Works, Garrett was suspended without pay when another Metro employee filed a complaint against him. At the time, no further information about that complaint was given to Garrett or his attorney, other than he was “being mean” to a colleague.

However, a letter Garrett’s supervisor sent to him on July 12 indicates an investigation conducted by the city alleges he threatened violence against a
fellow employee
.

It turns out Garrett filed a complaint against that employee first, but was suspended nonetheless, even after several co-workers provided statements saying Garrett was innocent and was in fact the one being harassed for being a whistleblower.

“I’ve been involved with a lot of retaliation lawsuits for several years now, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a person ordered to see a forensic psychiatrist to see if they’re mentally fit to work,” Sidebottom says. “It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. Mr. Garrett is not a criminal, he’s an employee.”