Last week’s indictment of the city’s former housing director undoubtedly marks a low-point in Mayor Jerry Abramson’s second term. Following a scathing state audit and two-year police investigation, Kimberly Bunton was indicted on two felony charges of theft. If convicted, the 39-year-old attorney faces a maximum fine of up to $10,000, five years in prison and possible disbarment.
The charges stem from an investigation that raised questions about Bunton’s mother, Vickie Smallwood, receiving more than $2,000 in low-income assistance from the housing department. That amount included $500 from a taxpayer-funded account dedicated to assisting poor children.
In 2008, Bunton resigned and reimbursed the city with three separate checks, including $1,350 on behalf of her mother, who also was indicted on two theft charges. At the time, Abramson defended the outgoing housing director, calling her a “change agent.”
It just so happens the mayor used that same phrase to describe former Metro Animal Services Director Gilles Meloche, who also resigned amid growing controversy and a city department in disarray.
In a statement responding to news of Bunton’s indictment, Abramson noticeably cut references to her as a “change agent.”
“Kimberly Bunton made some poor decisions and violated my trust,” Abramson said. “Now, the judicial system will decide whether she violated the law.”
The scandal in Louisville’s Housing and Family Services Department ballooned in the months after Bunton’s resignation, and a state audit revealed layers of financial mismanagement during her tenure.
The report revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars was unaccounted for due to bad bookkeeping and that the agency had failed to meet reporting procedures required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“If the (housing) department was changed, then it was change for the absolute worse,” says Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, who co-chaired a committee that investigated the reasons behind millions of federal housing dollars going unspent. “The amount of illegal activity is of great concern, but it’s not surprising. The concern that I have had as a member of this government is the level of mismanagement.”
After Bunton’s departure, the mayor appointed Tina Heavrin, his general counsel at the time, as interim director of the embattled department. Since then, the Mayor’s Office has cited significant improvements in the department’s financial monitoring, including letters of praise from HUD.
Still, Abramson’s longstanding critics don’t believe a significant enough overhaul will occur until a new mayor takes office.
“I’ll just be glad when January comes,” Downard says.
In a surprise move, four members of the Metro Council are breaking with their parties to endorse write-in candidate Ken Herndon in a special election for the 6th District seat. In a joint statement, Council President Tom Owen, D-8, along with council members Jon Ackerson, R-18, Rick Blackwell, D-12, and Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, said Herndon’s commitment to the district has prepared him to lead.
“I am honored to have the endorsement of council members whose dedication to public service I admire so much,” Herndon said in a news release. “I look forward to working with them.”
In June, the council selected University of Louisville professor Deonte Hollowell, a registered independent, to fill the seat left vacant after the sudden death of George Unseld.
Herndon narrowly missed winning the appointment, and the Jefferson County Democratic Party passed him over in selecting a candidate to run for the seat in November. After interviewing several applicants, a Democratic Party executive committee ultimately chose former Fraternal Order of Police President David James as the nominee. Since then, Herndon has launched a write-in campaign.
Last week, James received key endorsements from the city’s police, fire and corrections unions, along with the Jefferson County Teachers Association.
The four-way contest this November also will include Hollowell, who hopes to retain the seat as an independent, and Republican Candace Jaworski, an account manager at a local advertising firm.
In the close race for mayor of Louisville, Democrat Greg Fischer is arguing Republican Hal Heiner is outside the mainstream.
“Now folks, I’m running against an extremist. As our good friend the mayor would say, I’m running against a divider,” Fischer recently told a crowd outside Jefferson County Democratic Party headquarters. “My opponent represents that extreme right, and we don’t need that here in our city.”
The Louisville businessman has made it a point to remind voters about Heiner’s record on the Metro Council, particularly his votes against the Fairness Ordinance, smoking ban and pollution control.
In 2004, a bipartisan 19-6 vote reapproved Fairness — first enacted by the old Louisville Board of Alderman in 1999 — prohibiting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, but not without objection from Heiner.
The GOP nominee for mayor has repeatedly said he won’t seek to repeal the law and will enforce it, but his past opposition to gay rights is unsettling to progressives.
That said, the other votes Fischer highlights as an example of Heiner’s supposed extremism aren’t so clear-cut.
For instance, Heiner voted against the first two versions of the city’s smoking ban that were both deemed unconstitutional by the courts because they gave exemptions to certain businesses such as Churchill Downs.
At the time, proponents of the legislation vehemently opposed those exemptions, and Heiner introduced amendments to apply the ban to all businesses. And when the ordinance was eventually revised without any exemptions, he voted for it.
In addition, Heiner’s vote against the Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program was due at least in part to reservations about the law’s language, a concern shared by several city leaders, including Mayor Abramson.
In 2006, Abramson asked an advisory group to review the proposal and its potential affect on businesses and neighborhoods. When the mayor asked then-council president Kevin Kramer, R-11, to appoint a representative from the legislative branch to help craft any changes, he tapped Heiner to help phase in the program.