March 25, 2009

Clear as mud

Is Mayor Jerry Abramson guilty of malfeasance? Honestly, we don’t know.

The longer Hizzoner opposes calls for increased transparency and openness in Metro government, the more reason we have to believe unethical activity might be occurring in the executive office.

In the last couple of years, Louisvillians were subject to the grand deception known as the library “fee,” which in reality was a new tax Abramson & Co. tried to sneak past the voting public under the guise of library expansion. Shifting certain costs to the new tax would’ve opened up some $16 million in the mayor’s budget. It failed.

Now he’s angling to allow Cordish, the Baltimore-based developer responsible for Fourth Street Live, to repurpose almost $2 million in taxpayer money — including a ludicrous $950,000 to redecorate a bowling alley — while the council considers whether it might have any authority to say otherwise. Not likely.

Metro Council, the entity responsible for approving the metro budget, which is submitted by the mayor, asked Abramson for months to release vital financial data, information that is by law public record, to help explain an estimated $20 million revenue shortfall. Yet despite pleadings from both sides of the political aisle, the Abramson administration parceled out a minimum amount of data, resisting disclosure every step of the way.

Just last week, this newspaper detailed how Hizzoner appears to be running an unseemly crusade to kill attempts to establish an anonymous tip line where Metro employees could confidentially report fraud, abuse and unethical activities. Both the city’s chief auditor and the state auditor say there’s a need for a tip line, yet the mayor’s office has for four years found reasons not to establish one, and continues to scuttle the effort.

And oh the myriad excuses for blocking the tip line! One can just picture Mayor Abramson and his staff huddled together like rats in a nest strategizing damage control, cooking up fake concerns that Metro employees could fall victim to abuse of the system.

The well researched and documented facts, for those who care about them, are that any credible venue offering whistleblower protection only enhances strong government. That’s why the commonwealth and countless cities and companies across the nation have tip lines in place.

Whistleblower protections helped uncover Enron’s corrupt internal practices, the F.B.I.’s gross mismanagement that jeopardized national safety prior to 9/11, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempts to sell President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

But perhaps the biggest insult to Louisvillians is what was recently articulated in Frankfort in the mayor’s name.

While Hizzoner was conspicuously absent staffers did his dirty work, vehemently arguing against a potential ruling that would have required the mayor’s office to operate with additional transparency. With straight faces they told a state House committee there is no need for complete disclosure because when city and county residents voted for merger, they were fully aware they were giving the mayor near-dictatorial power.

Mayor Abramson must have gotten to Metro Council President David Tandy too, as Tandy twice stated that those voting for merger were indeed in favor of granting virtually unchecked power to the executive branch of the new amalgamated government.

Whether the minions and Tandy are living in a dream world or are just flat-out lying is a tossup.

The majority of Metro mayoral powers were established after the merger referendum occurred. Voters were tricked into signing what was effectively a blank check, which Abramson has been only too happy to cash.

One would think an honest mayor would welcome inspection of city financial records and contracts, especially in light of recent scandals and investigations involving various departments under his control, not to mention a state inquiry into the questionable redirection of city rental profits to a downtown development agency.

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world,” professed Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus. Mayor Abramson appears quite comfortable functioning in darkness and secrecy. He is fighting tooth-and-nail to continue that status quo.

How very beastly indeed.

 

Tagged: Francene |