January 9, 2007

City Strobe - Metro Council: Meet the new boss

The Louisville Metro Council elected Rick Blackwell, D-12, to its highest post last Thursday, putting to rest any rumors that the majority-wielding caucus couldn’t hold it together for a major vote — oh wait, passing the dog ordinance did that. Yeah, never mind. Regardless, it’s a new year, and most people — while they can’t forget the dog law that’s now in effect (see www.louisvilleky.gov/MetroCouncil for a copy of the 89-page law) — want to excise from their memories that awful nine-hours-and-change meeting last month. The relatively uncomplicated 16-10 vote, with Republican Doug Hawkins, D-25, casting the lone minority-party nod in support of Blackwell, was a breath of fresh air, as much for its clarity of purpose as anything. Blackwell joined the Council in 2003 and has been leader of the Democratic Caucus and chair of the budget committee. In an interview last week, he said he was impressed by the way the caucus came together to vote him in. “What was different this year was the three people who had expressed interest — Dan Johnson, Jim King and myself — continued to dialogue during the whole experience” instead of factionalizing the party, Blackwell said. “I believe people don’t feel like there were winners or losers.” The Democrats appear to have undertaken a farm-team strategy: King, D-10, is expected next in line for the presidency. He is currently the caucus chair. Blackwell said a key issue this year will be to address laws that are set to sunset a year from now under the state law requiring all former city and county ordinances to be readdressed in the first five years of merged government. The council has already taken care of the big ones, Blackwell said, referencing the adult business and animal ordinances, which remain perhaps the most controversial redrafts in the Council’s short history. As for this year’s headline-grabber, Blackwell said the proposed trans fat ban will certainly prompt some nastiness, as any ban surely will. However, “I think the trans fat ordinance and the discussion that will surround that will be very good for the community. Whether we actually come up with a ban, I won’t speculate on that.” The Council as teacher? Yes, grasshopper. —Stephen George Complaints filed over dog ordinance; lawsuits expected soon A second formal complaint has been filed against the Metro Council regarding the manner in which the so-called dangerous dog ordinance was debated. The first, filed almost two weeks ago by the Louisville Kennel Club, alleges that the Democratic Caucus violated the state open meetings law by failing to notify the public of two special meetings it held on Dec. 19, just hours before the full Council voted on the ordinance. The Kentucky League of Sportsmen filed a complaint late last week on the same grounds. Those caucus meetings produced a substitute ordinance that ultimately passed and is now law. State law requires public notification for any special meetings. The County Attorney’s office will review the first complaint, spokesman Bill Patteson said. He couldn’t offer specifics. Jon Fleischaker, an attorney representing the LKC, said a lawsuit would be filed “sooner rather than later” along the lines of the complaint. Doug Moutardier, spokesman for the Sportsmen, said the group will likely file suit as well. —Stephen George On Broadway: new digs for arts organizations ArtspaceThe Kentucky Opera and Louisville Orchestra have undergone significant staff changes over the past year, with the arrivals of David Roth as the opera’s general director and Brad Broecker as the orchestra’s CEO. Yesterday, the Louisville Fund for the Arts announced that both organizations will soon undergo physical changes as well, moving from their separate Main Street offices to a building next to the W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre, christened Artspace. The move is part of a $7 million development project spearheaded by the Louisville Fund for the Arts, which worked with both arts organizations and the owners of the 10-story building to arrange the latter’s donation of eight floors to the Fund. The Fund has begun renovations on four floors of the building. (The current owners are retaining ownership of the top two floors and will renovate the space for condominiums.) The Fund subsidizes 24 organizations and programs in Louisville, primarily the opera, the orchestra, the Louisville Ballet and Actors Theatre of Louisville. The organizations project that by mid-year the opera and the orchestra will move into their new digs at 321 W. Broadway, which they will lease from the Fund. (The Fund will remain in its offices at 623 W. Main St.) The space at 321 W. Broadway will include 70,000 square feet with a planned rehearsal area and a pedway linking the offices to the Brown Theatre. Leaders of all three organizations say the move will save the orchestra and the opera significant money they now pay in rent. Roth estimates it will save the opera, which owns and maintains two floors of its current office, up to $35,000 annually. He and Broecker say the move can allow further money-saving measures by allowing both organizations to merge some staff functions, including a receptionist, information technology support and possibly marketing operations. Allan Cowen, the Fund’s president and CEO, says he envisions some of Louisville’s other arts groups moving into the space. —Elizabeth Kramer Threat: Low Apparently deciding that Denny’s salad bar is probably not such a tempting target for al Qaeda after all, the Department of Homeland Hilarity yanked Louisville from its list of cities receiving federal anti-terror bling. Last year, New York and other cities went dotty when Louisville snagged a 70-percent increase at the expense of other, more jihad-worthy metropolises. The mayor’s office pledged the cut would not stop MetroSafe, the $70 million emergency communications system, not adding: “We feel confident we can protect the bridge we can’t paint and the subways we don’t have.” —Jim Welp Riding the poverty cycle In the classic film “Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me,” obese archvillain Fat Bastard moans, “I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle.” Applied to Kentucky, it’s more like, “We’re stupid because we’re poor and we’re poor because we’re stupid.” That seems to be the conclusion of the journal Education Week, which ranked the Commonwealth 41st in the nation in its “Quality Counts” study. Indiana came in 30th. The annual study tries to measure each state’s success at raising its children from birth to career. It concluded that living in poverty and having parents who are a few tortilla chips shy of a Nachos Bellgrande can be an impediment to someday assistant-managing your own Taco Bell. The study examined 13 factors that impact a child’s chances to succeed in adulthood, including family income, the parents’ education attainment and the parents’ employment status. Kentucky ranked low in all categories, underscoring what every teacher knows: When a child comes to school hungry, ungrammatical and superstitious, the job of teaching is a whole lot tougher. So it’s actually impressive — almost heroic — that Kentucky ranked 31st (Indiana 34th) in student achievement, a dramatic improvement over the past decade, showing that education reform is paying off. Trying to make a dent on the college level, U of L announced the “Cardinal Covenant” program, which will take money from the university’s budget to help 150 of its poorest students cover tuition, which costs a whopping 40 percent more than it did three years ago. The move angered some middle-income students, who believe they’re getting pinched because they’re neither rich nor poor. So, does Mr. Bastard’s fate instruct our attempt at breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance? In the movie, Felicity Shagwell kicks him in the testicles, provoking a monstrous expulsion of flatulence. So probably not. But if there’s a nut-kicking Shagwell in Kentucky, it’s the Governor and the General Assembly, who always manage to keep Kentucky education broke. And consequently, Kentucky. —Jim Welp For a regular dose of Strobe, visit The Lip: LEO’s News Blog at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com