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April 3, 2007

City Strobe

MSD: still hemorrhaging funds over whistleblower case  The Metropolitan Sewer District, which lost a federal whistleblower case in January, had paid $323,712.16 for that and a related legal matter by the end of February, according to documents obtained by LEO recently through an open records request.That figure represents an additional $70,927.98 over the total LEO reported in its Jan. 17 cover story, which covered total costs of the case between MSD and ex-workers Sarah Lynn Cunningham and Ronald Barber, as well as a matter between MSD and the Metro Ethics Commission that relates to a claim filed by Cunningham. Thus far the Ethics Commission has arduously handled the complaint, originally filed by Cunningham in November 2004, and just now seems to be opening an investigation.MSD laid off Cunningham, an engineer, and Barber, a contractor for the agency, in December 2004, seven months after Cunningham filed a complaint with the state Attorney General alleging ethical and legal transgressions at the agency. The Attorney General’s office is currently investigating the claim.The money spent by MSD, a quasi-public agency, has come in part from money Metro Louisville residents pay each month for its water and sewer services and in part from agency bonds. Last month, MSD appealed a portion of the verdict pertaining to Barber.Meanwhile, MSD director Bud Schardein — who sat stoically at the defendant’s table throughout the seven-day trial, is responsible for the layoffs and is alleged by the former workers to have enabled various forms of corruption and abuse at the agency — still has both his job and the confidence of Mayor Abramson, who appointed Schardein and MSD’s Board of Directors.A bill filed in February by state Sen. Dan Seum, R-38, which would increase government oversight of the agency by diversifying the group responsible for appointing its Board and executive director, stalled. —Stephen GeorgeHot man-on-calf literature“Pssst. Hey, kids! Want to read a naughty, dirty, disgusting book full of S-E-X? Check out “Beloved” by Toni Morrison! It’ll get you all tingly and engorged!” The literary world and author Morrison owe a debt of gratitude to Eastern High School principal James Sexton for sending that message last week by banning from a senior-level AP English class “Beloved” — a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel that refers to bestiality among sex-starved slaves.The book explicitly portrays a despicable human condition that should appall anyone: slavery. But it was the mention of bestiality that upset a couple of parents, sparking the classic censorship series of events: A control-freak parent of a young adult complains to the principal about an “inappropriate” passage in a classic work of literature. The principal caves and bans the book. The community becomes alternately outraged on both sides of the argument. English teachers and librarians around the country vow to teach the book, ensuring more closed-minded self-righteousness and cowardly book banning. Kids, upon discovering the book isn’t available in reality-TV, video-game, podcast, YouTube, Comedy-Central, RSS, MySpace, Facebook, comic-book or anime formats, actually read the novel. Ah, the sweet, sweet circle of smut.Book banning has been a sales godsend for Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, J.D, Salinger, Maya Angelou, Morrison and countless other authors for generations. (Kids! For a list, visit the American Library Association at www.ala.org/bbooks!) Overshadowed by the brouhaha is the undeniable truth that literature, in the hands of a master, can bring a distant time, place, circumstance and depth of understanding into a child’s life unlike any other art form. The hot man-on-calf action is just a bonus. —Jim WelpIt’s the size of the dog in the lawsuit that mattersThere are 12 co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last Tuesday in Jefferson Circuit Court, which seeks to block the city’s controversial dog ordinance, a law that imposes new fees and regulations on every pet owner, kennel, breeder, animal-sitter, veterinarian, hunter, and general animal person in the Metro. It took effect Jan. 5. The groups range from the Louisville Kennel Club and League of Kentucky Sportsmen (both were vocal opponents while the Metro Council debated the ordinance) to animal clubs and kennels to a pair of veterinarians. The plaintiffs contend that the ordinance, which also confers substantial new powers to Metro Animal Services director Dr. Gilles Meloche, violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Commerce Clause and sections 1-3 of the Kentucky Constitution, and conflicts with statutory law. The suit offers 31 examples of illegal provisions in the ordinance, including a definition of “nuisance” that subjects pet owners to criminal punishment (including a jail sentence) if their pet irritates or perturbs anyone (this distinction is arbitrary in the law), unconstitutional monitoring of pets by MAS, a requirement that would essentially make certain kinds of boarding kennels illegal, a requirement that veterinarians share information with MAS that contradicts state law, and a provision permitting Dr. Meloche and MAS to spay or neuter any animal impounded by the agency. Meanwhile, Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, has asked for more information about the figures Meloche presented to the Council’s Government Administration Committee last week, which showed dramatic increases in licensure and revenue for MAS since the law took effect. Downard, who has opposed the ordinance and offered amendment after amendment during the nine-hour Council meeting that resulted in its passage in December, said in an interview last week that he suspects amnesty periods on compliance with the new law may have allowed for artificially high figures.He also said the ordinance’s supporters on the Council defrauded the public by rewriting the law, largely in secret, just hours before the full Council was to vote on it. It passed almost along party lines, with Hal Heiner, R-19, offering the lone Republican vote. —Stephen GeorgeThe arts: Waiting in the wings at the General AssemblyNews from the Kentucky General Assembly’s short session was customarily fraught with tension, as legislators juggled scores of bills amid limited time and funding. In the waning days, the most notable news concerned the unsuccessful effort to overhaul the retirement systems that cover state and local government employees and public school teachers.Also as usual, various interest groups jockeyed behind the scenes with an eye to furthering their chances next session. That group included advocates for the Kentucky Arts Council and Louisville’s arts community, which some legislators note have increased visibility and lobbying for dollars in recent years.The Louisville arts community, represented by the non-profit Partnership for Creative Economies, sought a $600,000 state grant this year to follow up on $600,000 that legislators allocated in 2006 to help stabilize Louisville’s big four: Actors Theatre, Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet and Kentucky Opera. The request was part of the Partnership’s larger effort to secure $5.4 million over three years through contributions from state and local government and the private sector. (Last year, Metro Louisville and private industry matched the state’s contribution with $600,000 each.)The Partnership received no money this year. Neither did the Kentucky Arts Council, which requested funding to recoup budget cuts over the past six years. Still, arts advocates were encouraged by the General Assembly’s ultimate support of a tax break for Louisville’s planned Museum Plaza project. The legislature approved a plan to use $130 million in local and state tax revenue for infrastructure costs. (Developers estimate the total project cost at $465 million.)Todd Lowe, chairman of the Kentucky Arts Council board and president of Parthenon LLC, said legislators showed vision in supporting a project that relies so heavily on the arts and promises to contribute to the region’s economic development. But he stopped short of predicting legislators will fully fund arts advocates’ requests next year. “Keep in mind, that (legislation concerning Museum Plaza) was a tax break, so it didn’t cost them anything,” he said.So Lowe has been working with other members of the board to show lawmakers that investment in the arts supports economic growth and education.Tom Noland, chairman of the Partnership board and senior vice president of corporate communications at Humana, makes the same case for increasing public funding for Louisville arts and cultural organizations.“The arts is a large piece of the economic pie in Louisville,” Noland said.Noland and Lowe said they and their colleagues will work to raise lawmakers’ awareness of the needs and potential of Kentucky’s arts communities, with the goal of securing more funding next year.Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, notes that arts organizations have made a great effort to connect with lawmakers, and she believes that could pay off. “There’s an excellent chance of funding next year,” she said. “That being said … who knows, anything could happen.” —Elizabeth KramerToyota does FordIn a week in which workers at Ford’s Fern Valley Road assembly plant voted for concessions in a desperate attempt to save their plant from closure, Toyota announced preliminary plans to pump $413 million into an upgrade for its Georgetown plant. Toyota, which makes economical, fuel-efficient, relatively low-emission vehicles, earned $3.2 billion in the last quarter of 2006 and is poised to become the world’s largest automaker.Meanwhile, Ford, which staked its future on gas-guzzling, planet-choking trucks and SUVs, lost $12.7 billion last year, including nearly $6 billion in the last quarter of 2006 alone. Now there’s an inconvenient truth. The Georgetown Toyota plant’s 7,000 workers build Camrys and Avalons, some of which are available in Toyota Hybrid Sanctimony Drive (TM) versions. The plant upgrade would allow Toyota to add another model to its production capacity. The company wouldn’t say what vehicle it would build there, but analysts speculated it would be a vehicle similar to the Matrix wagon, only larger, with seats wide enough to hold the buttocks of the average American. Um, uh-oh ... —Jim Welp Get your daily Strobe at “The Lip:  LEO’s News Blog” at www.leoweekly.com.  Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com