January 12, 2011

Sixth & Jefferson

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

If anything came close to spoiling Mayor Greg Fischer’s inaugural week it was the ongoing troubles at the city’s animal control agency.

Over the past week, a growing number of employees at Louisville Metro Animal Services have come forward to complain about worsening conditions in the department under Interim Director Wayne Zelinsky, who took over last January after former Director Gilles Meloche resigned amid controversy.

After LEO Weekly’s Jonathan Meador revealed that serious problems have continued, it appeared Fischer was preparing to take action. Last week, sources in the department said Zelinsky canceled an important meeting with the Humane Society of the United States and was called to the Mayor’s Office, subsequently canceling all other meetings.

When asked to confirm that meeting between the mayor and Zelinsky, Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter would
not comment.

And while sources at City Hall speculated that Zelinsky’s termination was imminent, that has not happened. Instead, Fischer has asked Sadiqa Reynolds, a former judge and chief of community building in his administration, to conduct a comprehensive review of the agency.

The mayor said Zelinsky would remain interim director while the review and search for a new permanent director are conducted.

“It’s no secret that there’s been controversy surrounding animal services,” Fischer says. “We want to dig in there and find out what are the facts and how can we improve. All along that was going to be one of the initial things we’d do. I’ve only been in office now for five days. Give me a little time.”

The evaluation will examine how the department cares for animals and performs euthanasia; it also will track the city’s adoption rate and benchmark Louisville’s animal welfare and control efforts with other cities nationwide.

“I welcome it,” Zelinsky says, adding that he’s interested in becoming the permanent director. “It’s good for the mayor to take the time to see what’s going on and get a good feel for the department.”

In addition, the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit is investigating LMAS, but officials would not comment on the nature if the investigation.

Meanwhile, Fischer has kept Zelinsky at a safe distance publicly, saying he is eligible to become part of the search for a new director but that any changes in leadership will depend on the review. One source in the administration called the interim director a “lightning rod” that the mayor would be “crazy” to retain.

“It’s my fervent hope that the review will once and for all lance the abscess that LMAS has been to this community since July 2005,” says Barbara Haines, treasurer of the Louisville Kennel Club and an outspoken critic of the leadership at LMAS. “A lot of very good employees have been fired or forced to quit due to the harassment that went on over there. And it’s horrible that Metro government never stood up to protect its employees over the years.”

•••

For Councilwoman Judy Green, D-1, the scandal surrounding her sketchy jobs-for-youth summer program could be the least of her worries.

In November, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge James M. Shake ordered the sale of the city lawmaker’s home as a result of a civil lawsuit brought against Green and her husband, James Green, by Louisville businessman Gus Goldsmith.

On Oct. 22, 2003, Goldsmith loaned the Greens $140,000, according to court papers obtained by LEO Weekly. In the fall, a final summary judgment against the Greens ordered the sale of their west Louisville home in order to pay Goldsmith the remaining $136,000 balance.

In a telephone interview, however, Green’s husband said a settlement has been reached and the couple is not being forced to sell their property. “It will be dismissed. We’ve reached a loan modification agreement,” James Green says. “Goldsmith’s attorney actually should have done that some time ago. It’s been resolved, and they should have filed their paperwork earlier than they did.”

But the case file obtained Jan. 7 does not show any motion to dismiss, and the commissioner’s office confirmed with the newspaper earlier this week that their records show the sale of the Green home has been approved.

“My recollection is that the case may be resolved, but I couldn’t swear on that right now,” says attorney Thomas Carter, who represents Goldsmith. “I don’t know the specifics, but a lot of times these cases are ongoing and resolutions are reached outside of court … my belief is it is resolved but hasn’t been dismissed yet.”

Court records show Councilwoman Green has other debts, including $55,411 owed to the Internal Revenue Service in unpaid taxes going back to 1998, and a hefty student loan for $374,896 stemming from a judgment in 1989.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hale’s office says she is hopeful the IRS will receive payment for the back taxes and that the student loan debt will be repaid, even though a statute of limitations gives the federal government no legal recourse to recoup the student loan.

“We believe she has a moral obligation to pay back this money,” says Stephanie Collins, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisville.

These personal financial troubles underscore a scathing internal audit and police investigation of a $55,000 grant Councilwoman Green used to fund the “Green Clean Team,” a summer program for at-risk youth in her district.

The audit found that 12 of Green’s relatives worked in the program and collected $3,580, and that $28,270 was unaccounted for due to poor bookkeeping.

Those results were forwarded to the police department’s Public Integrity Unit, and although no charges were filed against the councilwoman, a police report stated there was the “appearance that criminal activity could have been taking place.”

In response, Green has disputed the audit’s claims and indicated she will go forward with the program again this summer. 

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