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July 17, 2007

City Strobe

Parent org will keep overseeing workers’ unionA judicial panel of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has decided that its Louisville chapter should remain under the control of the parent organization as a police investigation into possible forgery, embezzlement and theft by its president proceeds.The investigation concerns former Local 2629 President Sheila Wade, who was relieved of her duties on June 8, after a routine audit by AFSCME International revealed 94 forged checks totaling $123,701.86, more than $8,000 in car rentals Wade charged to the union without authorization, and more than $6,000 in funds unaccounted for — payments Wade received from the union and subsequently could not document.The union sent a letter to members Tuesday explaining the situation and the panel’s decision. The panel’s seven-page ruling, delivered to LEO by a union source last week, details a wide-ranging case of neglectful bookkeeping and possible criminal activity that appears to have compromised the Local 2629 in a significant way — the investigation has found nearly a quarter of a million dollars in questionable spending, most of which leads back to Wade. AFSCME Local 2629 lost its treasurer in March 2006, and a replacement was never named. Instead, Wade assumed those duties. By the end of August that year, Keith Springer — vice president of the Local — had taken a job in management and left the union. He too was never replaced, although that position is essential to the union’s daily functions: The vice president’s signature is required, along with the president’s, on every check written by the union. Although Springer “pre-signed a handful of blank checks prior to his resignation,” according to the panel’s report, he did not continue to sign union checks after his departure. Wade had told the AFSCME auditor he did. In a recent interview for a previous LEO story on the matter, Springer said he had seen the 94 checks and confirmed that his signature had been forged.Additionally, the audit revealed that the Local had been intentionally underreporting the amount of money it was receiving in dues and skimming off the top; in essence, it was charging members more than what is required by its parent organization without reporting it up the chain. The Local must report to the Indianapolis-based AFSCME Council 62, to which it also gives a portion of its dues — 60 percent of every dollar that comes in. It also gives 30 percent of that dollar to AFSCME International, and keeps only about 10 percent of the money its members pay in dues. From 2005 to the present, the Local kept $26,317.36 from AFSCME International and $73,622.94 from Council 62, according to the panel’s report. “The union is here to take care of the members,” Council 62 executive director David Warrick told media at the union’s office Tuesday. “It’s sad when this kind of thing happens.” Warrick said the membership has been supportive of the union’s actions in dealing with the problem. The Louisville Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit has been conducting its own investigation into the matter since last month; the department had no comment for this story. Once the investigation is complete, it moves to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to pursue charges against Wade or any other union officials, a pool that Warrick said could include past Local treasurers. —Stephen GeorgeIt’s a gas, gas, gasConventional wisdom has it that a powerful Senate leader has the clout to make all kinds of magic happen for the people back home. But one thing Senate Minority Leader and presidential hiney-climber-inner Mitch McConnell — along with all the king’s horses and all the kings men and women — have not been able to accomplish is the destruction of a large stash of red, white and blue WMD in Richmond, Ky.Richmond’s Blue Grass Army Depot is home to 70,000 rockets armed with highly explosive chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gases. Mustard gas — chemotherapy’s evil grandpa — is known for its ability to cause extensive blisters, blindness and slow, painful death. Sarin is basically “Raid” insecticide in new-and-improved human strength.The WMD, some of which have been stored in Richmond since the 1940s, are at one of two remaining sites — the other is in Colorado — that the U.S. government is still dragging its feet on cleaning up. The country’s preferred method — dumping the weapons in the ocean — was abandoned in the 1970s, when it was discovered the practice pretty much killed everything in the vicinity for five years or so.Better to keep it in Kentucky. A ’90s plan to incinerate the weapons also was abandoned when officials decided it was a really, really retarded idea. The latest scheme calls for on-site neutralization, followed by “supercritical water oxidation” and is expected to be completed by 2023 by a noble little company called Bechtel, widely recognized for its engineering high jinks everywhere from Iraq to New Orleans to Boston’s Big Dig.Now Mitch, who is desperately looking for something to talk about besides Iraq, campaign-finance obfuscations, Gov. Fletcher and immigration reform, wants the Pentagon to destroy the WMD by 2017. He inserted the new deadline in a 2008 defense spending bill amendment, which must be approved by Congress. Pentagon officials promised to study McConnell’s proposal as an alternative to their own 35-year course of “Yeah, we’ll get right on that.” —Jim WelpDo it for AlIf you could reduce your electricity consumption, lower your monthly expenses, reduce CO2 emissions, and help LG&E avoid building future generating capacity, all while suffering almost no discomfort, would you do it? The magic way to achieve all those goals is to lower your energy consumption during peak hours. For most people, those are when we are at work (during the summer) or asleep (in the winter) anyway. Most people don’t do it, mainly because fidgeting with that thermostat is so darn much trouble!Now LG&E is going to test the concept on 150 guinea pigs by offering variable rates: higher rates during peak hours, lower rates at other times. Lazy bones who do nothing will see their rates basically unchanged. But the idea rewards those who are willing to reduce consumption during peak hours by daring them to not consume at the higher rate.The scheme is part of a larger effort by LG&E to reduce peak usage by offering tools to help people do it. Plans also call for programmable thermostats, smart meters and portable energy displays that let masochists see exactly how much they’re spending at any given moment. The company also plans to offer a way for its geekier, attention-deficit customers to adjust their thermostats from their Crackberries, iPhones or Web browsers. To get in on some of this action, visit www.eon-us.com. Or, you know, just get off your butt and adjust your thermostat. —JWVisit “The Lip: LEO’s News Blog” at www.leoweekly.com. Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com