As an outspoken critic of the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project, Shawn Reilly has come to expect a bit of public scrutiny. But the co-founder the Facebook group “Say NO to Bridge Tolls” never expected a supporter of the project would tattletale to his boss.
Earlier this month, Reilly, a financial advisor, appeared on 89.3 WFPL’s afternoon news program “State of Affairs” to weigh in on the massive public works project that includes building an East End bridge, a downtown bridge and reconfiguring Spaghetti Junction.
The radio station also invited proponents of the project, including David Nicklies, chairman of the Bridges Coalition, a nonprofit group of business and labor groups favoring the project, to participate in the on-air conversation.
A day after taking part in the panel discussion, Nicklies, a well-known local developer, called Reilly’s employer to solicit the company’s financial support for the Bridges Coalition. During that conversation, he allegedly suggested the company muzzle their outspoken employee.
Calling the conversation “childish,” Reilly’s boss tells LEO Weekly that Nicklies did in fact talk about “reining in” the anti-tolling grassroots organizer and asked whether his employee represented the company’s views. The employer says he responded by indicating Reilly has never mixed his professional work with his personal views.
And while Nicklies confirms that he called Reilly’s place of business seeking donations to support the coalition’s efforts, he denies intimidating Reilly or his employer during the phone call.
“I’m glad to talk about the bridges project, but this is a strange conversation. I don’t know where you’re going with this … consider the source of where your information is coming from,” he says. “I’m actually offended by the question. You and Mr. Reilly have cooked something up here …”
Meanwhile, Reilly has hired an attorney, who drafted a letter addressed to Nicklies demanding he immediately cease any and all communication with Reilly’s employer, clients or prospective customers concerning his views about the bridges project.
“It was really shocking to me that he’d stoop that low to intimidate me,” Reilly says. “I’ve never had anything like that happen before. I’m having a political debate, so let’s keep it about the community, and let’s not involve my career and personal life in this.”
Last week, City Hall was abuzz with questions about why Mayor Jerry Abramson did not reappoint acting Ethics Commission Chairman Larry Grant, who was integral to helping Metro Council draft the ethics ordinance earlier this year.
The former police captain was eager to serve a second term, which is customary for board and commission members in Metro government. At the end of his tenure last month, Grant even received a “Mayor’s Citation” in recognition for his outstanding public service.
“Your commitment to our community has been outstanding and your efforts will impact our city for years to come,” Abramson wrote at the time.
Though both Democrats and Republicans on the council have praised Grant’s involvement during the ethics debate, the mayor denied his request to be reappointed, saying he wanted to spread new appointments around because so many people were applying.
“I’m disappointed, and I still can’t understand it, but it’s the mayor’s call,” Grant says. “I called the existing commission members and told them just to let them know, and they were also surprised. They asked why, and I told them I have no idea.”
The Ethics Commission is required to have a political makeup of three Democrats, three Republicans and one independent. Grant was the lone independent and many expected he’d be able to serve a full term as ethics chairman.
After learning the independent member of the commission wasn’t going to be reappointed, Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, who led a special work group that crafted the amended ethics ordinance, sent an inquiry letter to the administration, but says she has not received a response.
A spokesman with the Mayor’s Office tells LEO Weekly it was important to shuffle around new appointments, and it appears no further explanation can be given other than the administration flexing a mayoral prerogative.
“Our goal is to try and attract good people who are willing to give their time and their talents to serve on boards, which are volunteer positions,” says Chad Carlton, a mayoral spokesman.
“There wasn’t any particular reason (Grant wasn’t reappointed),” Carlton says. “In these past six months or so, we’ve gotten to the end of terms for different boards, and the mayor has tried to be proactive in anticipating those.”
Typically, anyone interested in serving on a city board or commission fills out an application, which includes ranking specific areas of interest. The applicant who recently replaced Grant on the commission did not list ethics as an interest, nor did two other recent appointments to the ethics board.
Council Republicans, who have led the charge to achieve transparency in City Hall, believe Abramson may have — for whatever reason — shuffled out a trusted and valued public servant for no good reason.
“It really calls into question their motive and thought process,” says Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, who co-sponsored the original version of the ethics ordinance. “We didn’t think there’d be any issue at all with Mr. Grant. I don’t know where the mayor is coming from. We’re very disappointed in the mayor for not doing that.”