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December 2, 2009

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

Now that the hectic holiday season has officially begun, let us take a moment to stop and think about what we as a city — Metro employees, political candidates and citizens alike — actually have to be grateful for, despite a troubling economy and generally tough times. Although it might not be obvious at first glance, there are at least a handful of reasons to be thankful:

First, Mayor Jerry Abramson should be grateful that the city’s occupational tax revenue is looking better than in previous years. The administration isn’t releasing any official numbers until January, which is a departure from their previous woeful budget announcements, which typically arrive in late November. Based on the first four months of the fiscal year, The Courier-Journal’s Dan Klepal calculated that at its current pace, the occupational tax would be light by $7.4 million. The administration won’t say whether the C-J’s numbers are true, but they’re hoping for a bump in holiday hiring and a strong rebound by the end of the fiscal year in June 2010.

Although still a blow to the city budget, that deficit is much better than in previous fiscal years, which saw $13 million and $20 million overall budget shortfalls, respectively. Those revenue shortages forced deep cost-cutting measures, including furloughs and layoffs for Metro employees. This year, however, department heads were told they only have to tighten their belts a little bit by making 2 to 5 percent spending cuts, and by not filling any unnecessary vacancies.

For employees of Louisville Metro Animal Services, be thankful that it’s less than a month until your boss, embattled director Dr. Gilles Meloche, officially steps down. The outgoing department head faces a litany of alleged misdeeds, including sexually harassing employees, torturing kittens and dumping animal carcasses into the local landfill. The people of Brevard County, Fla., should also be thankful: Meloche was one of five finalists for a similar position in their neck of the woods, but the county passed.

Louisville firefighters should be smiling after receiving $15.8 million from Metro government on Dec. 1. That hefty chunk of change is the first of three installments in a $45 million settlement reached as a result of overtime pay being miscalculated for decades. We’ll call it a long-overdue Christmas bonus.

In early November, Louisville was named one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Walkers should now be thankful that the federal government is giving Louisville $7.4 million in stimulus funds to repair crumbling sidewalks. The money will be put toward more than 2,500 sidewalk projects, about 60 percent of which will be aimed at fixing decaying walkways in the old city limits.

Sitting at the dinner table with a host of friends and family, mayoral candidate and Metro Councilman Jim King, D-10, should have given thanks that it’s December 2009 and not May 2010. The president and CEO of King Southern Bank has taken a beating lately for unlawfully bankrolling his daughter’s judicial campaign and sending out an unauthorized e-mail using the St. Xavier High School alumni association logo to promote a special fundraiser. With the Democratic primary still five months away, however, there’s a good chance voters won’t remember all the bad press from the fall.

The councilman’s critics might like to think these early missteps and hiccups will insure a poor showing at the polls, but they should recall his daughter’s judicial campaign also had a bumpy ride and still came out successful. In 2008, local political pundits lambasted Katie King, continually pointing to her minimal qualifications and sorority girl antics. Despite the criticism, King’s well-financed judicial campaign helped her secure her a seat behind the bench in Jefferson County District Court.

Mayoral candidate Greg Fischer should be thankful he is leading all candidates in fundraising and largely avoiding negative press. A strong third quarter showing brought in more than $220,000 for the Louisville businessman, who has deep pockets to match King’s moneybags. The campaign has received a number of key endorsements from labor unions, including a nod from United Auto Workers. He has also received support from area political leaders, including state Sens. Denise Harper Angel and Perry Clark, both Louisville Democrats.

The flipside is that while he’s a solid fundraiser who is making the necessary rounds across the city, Fischer’s candidacy is a snooze. The campaign is handicapped by often going unnoticed. Last week, for instance, Fischer’s campaign touted endorsements from several unions, including the Kentucky Laborer’s District Council, which collectively represents over 3,400 active and retired members. Unfortunately, the press release was sent out the day before Thanksgiving, meaning the announcement was either buried under holiday coverage or completely overlooked.

“Certainly as the campaign goes on and going into the New Year we intend to make our voice louder, reach out and introduce the public to Greg,” says Brandon Coan, a campaign spokesman. “Whatever the press coverage has been so far, the campaign has a lot of momentum and we’re happy where we are. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. Obviously, we can’t control what other candidates are doing to get in the news.”

For a New Year’s resolution, perhaps Fischer’s campaign should vow to do a better job of publicizing their candidate’s triumphs in the press. Adding a bold initiative or two to the platform and explaining the candidate’s vision might help, too. Until then, he’ll continue to quietly make progress.

This last bit does not fit into the “things to be thankful for” theme of this column, and in fact should evoke quite the opposite response: Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, is not planning to make a bid for Metro Council president. Last month, colleagues from both sides of the aisle were encouraging the outspoken Democrat to vie for the leadership position. Though honored by the suggestions, she instead wants to focus on her upcoming re-election and believes her independent voice and strong views on controversial issues — such as the Ohio River Bridges Project — are needed on the council floor.

“The position of Metro Council president needs to be de-politicized as much as it can. I don’t think it’s the right year,” she says.

“The other reason — to be honest — is that I have three of my colleagues running for mayor, and I’m not supporting any of them,” says Ward-Pugh, who is supporting Tyler Allen, co-founder of 8664, for mayor. “I don’t want to be in a position where somebody thinks I’m not being fair or favoring one party or disfavoring my colleagues.”