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December 8, 2010

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Facts, rumors and political innuendo

With the new year approaching, a handful of city lawmakers are jockeying for the Metro Council presidency, including a former rival of Mayor-elect Greg Fischer.

At least three council members have voiced interest in serving the one-year term as head of the legislative branch: Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Madonna Flood, D-24, Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9 and Councilman Jim King, D-10, who has been lobbying for the position and is considered the main contender.

“At this point, I believe I have about 17 commitments,” King says. “My primary goal will be to work with our new mayor to ensure that we do everything we can to move the city forward.”

A former mayoral candidate, King served as council president in 2008 and has a number of supporters who believe as Metro government embarks on its first mayoral transition he is best suited for the job.

Since merger, the president’s role as director of the legislative branch has expanded as chief negotiator with the mayor. There are concerns that if King is elected council president there could be rift with the incoming Fischer administration.

During the hotly contested Democratic primary, King attacked Fischer in several campaign mailers and television ads. In the final weeks of the election, the two businessmen traded barbs over the airwaves, with Fischer saying King was playing “chainsaw” politics and misleading voters.

In a recent e-mail, Ward-Pugh told colleagues that her record of bipartisanship and independence is needed in dealing with a new administration. While acknowledging King already has significant support on the council, she voiced concern about the conflict between Fischer and King potentially reigniting in 2011.

“While I believe (Councilman) King could do the job and do it well,” Ward-Pugh writes, “I believe I am better positioned to ensure building a fresh, positive foundation with the mayor-elect and the new administration given that I don’t have a record of criticizing Mayor-elect Fischer’s ability to lead, regardless of whether it was during a heated campaign or not. As I told King myself, while I don’t have any belief that he would not work well with Fischer, I do believe there is a dynamic that will be present with him as president that won’t be there with me.”

Despite those misgivings, King says his relationship with Fischer has improved since the election. The two talk regularly, he says, and King has met with the mayor-elect’s transition team to discuss budgetary matters. Other council members say an adversarial relationship between the council and Fischer shouldn’t be a concern.

“I would hope everyone involved realizes that all ended with the primary and general election results. Everyone needs to be professional and mature to do what’s best for the citizens of Louisville,” says Flood, adding that several members have encouraged her to run for council president and she is considering making a bid. “If we had a council president who attempted anything like that, the rest of us would work hard to rein that person in.”

For four consecutive years, the council has elected a Democrat as its president due to the majority caucus voting as a bloc. The last Republican council president was Kevin Kramer, R-11, who held the position in 2006. The minority caucus has not had any member step forward as a potential candidate. The vote for council president will be at its first meeting on Jan. 6.

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After recently opening a new corner store to help bring healthy foods to impoverished areas, Metro officials have announced another major step toward making Louisville a healthier city.

Last week, Mayor Jerry Abramson signed an executive order creating the Food Policy Advisory Council, which will work to reduce obesity in the community.

“This new council allows us to address lack of access to healthy foods on a larger policy level and looks at the food system as a whole, everything from getting food from the farm to your plate,” says Josh Jennings, a community health specialist with the Department of Public Health and Wellness’ Center for Health Equity, who will serve as the administrative coordinator for the food council. “Right from the start, we’re going to be looking at two recommendations: how to deal with menu labeling at local restaurants, and a healthy food and beverage signage policy. In some areas, such as the Shawnee neighborhood, you’re bombarded with liquor and cigarette signs, and we’re looking for ways to address that and to empower the customer.”

The food council’s policy agenda hasn’t been set, but funding for the panel comes from a $7.9 million federal grant. The money is being spent on long- and short-term strategies to increase physical activity, provide better nutrition and spur economic development.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky is the fourth-fattest state. Since 1995, the state’s obesity rate has nearly doubled, swelling from 17 percent to 32 percent. The numbers are particularly high in low-income areas, where residents lack access to healthy food options.

The new council will be made up of at least 15 members appointed by Mayor-elect Fischer. Four members of the new council will be department directors — specifically the heads of Metro Parks, Public Health and Wellness, Codes and Regulations, and Economic Development — who will serve as voting ex officio members.

The city is looking for community members interested in serving on the council. The applications — due Dec. 24 — are available at
www.louisvilleky.gov/health.

Behind the scenes, health officials are concerned about the city’s food justice movement losing momentum as a result of former Director Dr. Adewale Troutman’s departure and the mayoral transition, but those working closely with the new administration believe Fischer will keep up the pace.

“It’s extremely important to stick with these goals considering the obesity epidemic we have right now. The current food system affects those rates, and it’s important for the community to take that back in partnership with Metro government in order to change those unhealthy trends,” says SteVon Edwards, a member of Fischer’s transition team, who serves on the selection committee. “I don’t think there will be any momentum lost come January.”