Metro Councilman Jim King recently sat down with LEO Weekly to discuss his candidacy for mayor. The former council president and CEO of King Southern Bank talked about downtown development, budget shortfalls and the upcoming primary. A portion of that conversation ran in this week’s “Jerry’s kids;” here’s the full interview:
LEO: In regards to the attorney general’s recent opinion on the city’s deal with The Cordish Cos., does the Metro Council need to take a more assertive role in Metro government?
Jim King: I was not surprised by the information contained in the attorney general’s opinion. It is consistent, really, with how I have thought all along the separation of powers operated. The executive branch, I’ve always thought, had the power and should have the power to negotiate deals to bring jobs to Louisville and foster economic development. That is completely consistent with what I expect the mayor to do. On the other hand, I think what the attorney general said, and this is right, when it comes to the disbursement of dollars, anyone who contracts with the executive branch does so at its own peril knowing the legislative branch would have to approve the disbursement of any cash. I think really the council is maturing and learning as it has gone along these last few years. The council needs to continue to do things to assert itself with respect to transparency and accountability … the short answer is the council needs to address those situations as they become apparent, but I don’t really know I’d say they need to become “more assertive.” It is and has been serving its appropriate role.
LEO: What are your thoughts on the deals the mayor has made with The Cordish Cos., particularly the forgivable loan (to redevelop a club at Fourth Street Live) and Center City?
JK: One of the things I did on the council was work with my colleagues on placing timelines on the Cordish deal to limit their control of the property, and to create benchmarks that have to occur over the next 10 years. Whoever the mayor is will have to live up to those benchmarks and work with Cordish to see that they’re achieved. It would be a good thing if they were achieved. It would be good for Louisville if Cordish lived up to all of the promises and expectations that have come from these transactions and agreements.
LEO: What should the council’s role be in those deals, if any?
JK: Whoever the contractor is needs to understand that they are operating at their own peril until such time the council has approved the transaction. My approach on similar transactions as mayor would be to involve at least council leadership — the president, possibly the budget chair or caucus chairs — in discussions about the concepts that we’re dealing with without necessarily disclosing proprietary information, because that seems to be the hot button. Bring them in as more of a partner … I would want them involved at least talking about visions without disclosing specifics of a transaction that is pending.
LEO: How would you handle the budgetary shortfalls the city has faced over the past few years?
JK: I think I am uniquely situated to deal with budget issues … I have a deep understanding of how the city budget is compiled. In this particular year as budget chair I led the committee through the process of the most difficult one we’ve ever had. We were able to restore some jobs and ultimately balance the budget without any unnecessary cuts in services. I don’t believe that the budget should be balanced on the backs of our employees by layoffs and furlough days … As budget chair what was most effective was for the first time ever establishing a set of priorities on where dollars should be spent. The way I did that was creating a questionnaire for the council members that listed the 44 functional areas and asking them to rank them in terms of whether they were mission-critical to city government.
LEO: The administration has made deep cuts, but is raising taxes a possibility?
JK: I have no plans to raise taxes … I think the best way to deal with budget deficits is to grow our local economy. People are concerned about jobs, economic development and quality-of-life issues. If addressed those will improve our economy here locally and will raise our tax base without raising taxes.
LEO: Critics say behind the scenes you’re a little rough with opponents. How do you respond to that?
JK: I’m rough with opponents? … If you look at my record on the Metro Council in terms of my accomplishments and the support I’ve received from my peers, whether being elected caucus chair or president of the council, and then the positive comments I’ve received from both sides at the conclusion of the budget process this year, all those are indicators of how well I work with people. The fact that someone may disagree with me doesn’t keep me from sitting down and listening to them to find a middle ground. I do that very well. Anyone who would say I’m being rough on opponents — I think, I ultimately bring people together.
LEO: Do you anticipate a contentious campaign?
JK: I know most of the candidates that are in the race personally. I respect each and every one of them. I respect anyone who puts themselves out in a political campaign. Sitting here today, I do not believe the campaign will be negative. I believe it’ll be positive and issues-oriented. And that’s the approach we’re going to take.
LEO: One of your opponents in the race is Councilman David Tandy (D-4), who is a colleague of yours. Will the race affect council business at all?
JK: David and I have a wonderful legislative relationship … and frankly, I consider him a friend. We actually sat down and talked about this. And I’ve committed to him and he’s committed to me that courtesy will be the order of the day. We understand our jobs on the council come before our positions as candidates.
LEO: When you announced your candidacy you said, “We can’t turn the keys to the bus over to inexperienced hands.” What did you mean by that?
JK: People in this city are concerned about jobs, public safety and quality-of-life issues. And Mayor Abramson, regardless of whether you agree with his approach or not, he has dedicated his career to serving Louisville and is an experienced hand at being mayor. Our next mayor should bring the qualities that I think I posses with respect to my understanding of the guiding principles of government and the fact I have served in Metro government and my understanding of the guiding principles of business and my ability to function as a CEO and lead large organizations. And my record of community service … it gives me a unique perspective on our city. I’m a lifelong resident of Louisville and I have children and grandchildren here. Just like I want opportunities for them, I want opportunities for your children and grandchildren. I think all of those life experiences and life-training blend to give me the experience necessary to take over responsibility for running the 16th largest city in the country.
LEO: When the mayor vetoed the construction-wage ordinance, a compromise was eventually reached. As mayor, will you revisit that issue and set stronger labor standards for local projects?
JK: I’m glad you brought that up. I was the person that wrote the labor standards ordinance and worked with Councilman [Rick] Blackwell in getting that passed. My belief is the process we went through was necessary to establish local labor content for women, for minorities and for minimum wages all because we routinely had to deal with those same issues over and over, regardless of what project came forward. In terms of revisiting it as mayor I would have liked to have seen a lower threshold. I would expect ultimately the council to continue to monitor the effectiveness of the ordinance and to bring forward any amendments that are necessary down the road.
LEO: The original version passed. Only the mayoral veto stood in the way. It would seem logical that you would want the original version, right?
JK: I would like to see those original standards, but if I’m no longer on the council … I would not try to preempt the council’s view of this. If they came forward with amendments to improve it or lower the threshold I would support those.
LEO: What is your big idea for the city to get people energized?
JK: My answer on that probably is that one of the biggest problems I see is fulfilling the promise of merger and the urban versus suburban issues we deal with. I believe that in order to have community, we have to have unity. And my vision would be one Louisville, which is finding a middle ground in working with all the diverse interests to fulfill the promise of merger.