October 10, 2006

City Strobe: It’s not the size of the muzzle on the dog in the fight

Members of the Louisville Kennel Club, Responsible Dog Owners of Louisville, a former Metro Animal Services employee and a current one have all received cease-and-desist letters from an attorney representing Dr. Gilles Meloche, the director of Louisville Metro Animal Services, demanding they stop talking publicly about Meloche’s past. The letter from attorney Laurence Zielke, dated Sept. 22, refers to Meloche’s work history, which includes a guilty plea to an administrative charge in Canada for improper record-keeping and failure to write a proper prescription for animal steroids. Meloche’s two jobs in the United States — animal control administrator in Durham, N.C., and director of the Tallahassee-Leon Community Animal Services Center in Florida — have been marred by controversy, both over his behavior and his “zero euthanasia” policy, which some interested parties believe causes overcrowding and inhumane living conditions for animals in his shelters. The kennel club and some current and former Louisville animal services employees have said publicly that the same thing is happening here. Mayor Abramson, whose administration hired Meloche last year, has stood by him. Several of those who received the letter — seven women and one man in total — hired attorney Jon Fleischaker, a noted First Amendment lawyer (he also represents LEO, via the Kentucky Press Association, as well as The Courier-Journal). Fleischaker sent a response to Zielke on Monday, calling the original cease-and-desist an “effort by Dr. Meloche to ‘gag’ by threats of legal action.” Fleischaker wrote that the group’s First Amendment rights are being assailed, and that speaking openly about the documented past of a public figure does not amount to defamation. “I think it’s inappropriate for a high-ranking public official to try to stop public discussion and public comments about either his policies or his performance by threatening a lawsuit,” Fleischaker said Tuesday. Zielke said Tuesday that Meloche is not commenting on the letter, and that it speaks for itself. The kennel club has been heavily involved in the lengthy and contentious debate over the proposed new dangerous dog ordinance, which is stalled in a Metro Council committee. Meloche, who helped write the ordinance, has said that dredging up his work history amounts to an attack on his character and an attempt to destroy his credibility. Herzig, the kennel club’s vice president, said the research her group and others have conducted on Meloche is appropriate and necessary, and speaking publicly about it is quite obviously in-bounds. She considers Meloche’s response an attempt at intimidation. “Chilling the First Amendment rights of responsible citizens is abhorrent,” she said Monday. “Whatever it takes to ensure the people of this community have a right to speak out, we’re going to push for, whatever that is.” Herzig said Meloche’s action has already had a chilling effect on MAS workers, and that the group represented by Fleischaker is willing to go to court over the matter. LEO, which published a lengthy story in its Aug. 29 issue detailing Meloche’s work history and his relationship with groups opposing the dangerous dog ordinance, has not received a cease-and-desist letter. —Stephen George Council still can’t get smoking ban right The first to hold the floor at Monday’s special meeting of the Health and Human Services committee, Republican Councilman Robin Engel told a thin, polarized crowd of advocates from both sides of the smoking ban that his comments to The Courier-Journal last week — that the jury is still out on the health effects of second-hand smoke — were taken dramatically out of context, and that the newspaper has muddied the pool of facts about the effect a comprehensive smoking ban might have on Louisville businesses, their workers and their patrons. The committee has been hearing testimony on a comprehensive ban that now probably won’t happen, leaving Louisville in just as bad a spot as it’s in now: saddled by a feckless, ineffective smoking “ban” that has done little but create competitive disadvantages for businesses not lucky enough to slip into one of its huge loopholes. For his part, Engel said he was talking about the effectiveness of separate ventilation systems that allow smokers and non-smokers to cohabitate bars and restaurants. He then proceeded to help initiate a new ordinance, proposed by Democrat Rick Blackwell, that’s just about as weak and pointless as the current one for its allowance of exemptions for installing just such technology. Engel is certainly not the only one pushing this sort of “ban,” which would effectively permit the most well-to-do businesses to allow smoking by installing separate smoking rooms with individual ventilation systems. Along with Blackwell and Engel, Democrat and committee chairwoman Mary Woolridge and Republican Glen Stuckel voted in favor of Blackwell’s ordinance. Democrats David Tandy and Barbara Shanklin, along with Republican Stuart Benson, voted against it. The ordinance replaced a more comprehensive ban pushed by Republican Ken Fleming, and is up for a vote before the Metro Council on Thursday. A Republican leader said he did not expect the ordinance to pass the full Council. Aside from the health effects of secondhand smoke, which have ultimately been sidestepped by those pushing compromised bans, much of the discussion has centered on the effects on area businesses. Fleming said he was trying to level the playing field with his ordinance, which also contained exemptions, including Churchill Downs and other sites regulated by the state Horse Racing Authority, as well as tobacco retail stores. “Comprehensive is in the eye of the beholder,” Blackwell said to Fleming, who is not on the committee but was present. It was a particularly tense moment during a disorganized and risible meeting where committee members frequently lost track of the official proceedings. “We knew that an amendment would come forth to have some type of ventilation,” Fleming said after the meeting. “It’ll still be an un-level playing field, any way you shake it or bake it, because some businesses will be able to put and some businesses won’t.” Fleming said he wasn’t aware until after Blackwell had proposed it that the Democrat had come up with a new ordinance. Republican leaders confirmed they had no advance notice of it, which is somewhat unusual. Blackwell told reporters after the meeting that he thought his compromise balances well the concerns for public health and businesses. —Stephen George Louisville: Now with 30 Percent More Cheese! “Not the Inbred Hillbilly Trailer Trash You Might Imagine” and “More Than Just Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms” are two slogans that probably are not being considered by the Greater Louisville Community Branding Alliance. The intrepid branders have $2.5 million to spend and the thorny goal of convincing Louisville and the world that we ooze big-city excitement, momentum and cosmopolitanism, while our southern charm, friendliness and salt-of-the-earth qualities are what make us so darn lovable (and in desperate need of a brand). In other words, just because we’re willing to marry our cousin doesn’t mean we won’t take her to Proof on Main and drop $100 on a bison-and-pinot-grigio supper, and the whole world should know it. The new branding initiative comes after several previous efforts to brand the city, including the ambitious 1803 “Better Victuals, Better Whores” campaign, the 1980s snappy “Look What We Can Do, Louisville” earworm and the less-successful 2005 “We’re Gonna Paint that Bridge, We Swear” promotion. And the new effort will complement Kentucky’s pricey “Unbridled Spirit” slogan, which has set the public-branding standard for contemptuous mockery. To form the basis of its work, the Branding Alliance recently completed surveys that confirmed Louisville’s bumpkin/slicker conflict: 65 percent of those surveyed said they believe Louisvillians are sophisticated enough to serve white wine with channel cat and red wine with fried squirrel. Once the coalition of agencies that make up the Branding Alliance has decided on the brand, it will begin the most expensive phase of the project: cramming it down our throats ad nauseum. —Jim Welp U of L may get Hunter S. Thompson papers This is a bit early, but the University of Louisville is one of two institutions vying to obtain Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s archives. Thompson’s estate will decide by next April whether his written legacy will end up at U of L or the University of California-Berkeley, according to a source at U of L. Thompson, a Louisville native who left the city after high school, was known for saving virtually everything he wrote. Two massive collections of his letters have been released in book form, and a third is reportedly on the way. His archives will likely include manuscripts, letters, notes and pretty much everything else he ever scribbled down and held onto. Selah! —Stephen George Write to us here, people: citystrobe@leoweekly.com