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December 15, 2010

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Facts, rumors and political innuendo

If soothing tensions with the Metro Council is a top priority for Mayor-elect Greg Fischer, appointing former council president-turned-state Rep. Ron Weston, D-Louisville, as a special assistant had political observers perplexed.

Last week, Fischer unveiled his first eight staff appointments, saying the group represents “significant change” coming to Metro government.

While council members were quick to praise Fischer for plucking Pat Mulvihill, a legal adviser with the County Attorney’s Office, to be his general counsel and chief liaison with the legislative branch, the selection of Weston to serve on the Intergovernmental Affairs team was met with an icy reticence.

Describing Weston as “slick” and “hard to trust,” a handful of sources in City Hall were troubled by the selection. But at least a few city lawmakers who served on the council with Weston say those tensions are in the past, and they support the mayor-elect’s appointment.

“It is a very logical and excellent choice, and I have no problems working with Ron at all,” says Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16. “There was friction with Weston in the beginning, admittedly. We were all new, and we had expectations of his leadership, and he didn’t live up to those at all. But coming back now, the way council has matured, I’m not looking for that kind of problem at all on either side of the aisle.”

One of the first complaints to bubble up was Weston’s history of meddling in council races, particularly in this year’s contest for his old seat. In the May primary, he gave a small campaign contribution to Democratic challenger Larry Price, whom he had allegedly recruited in an attempt to oust Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13.

Despite behind-the-scenes misgivings, it appears Fischer has handled his first hiccup with ease as his fledgling administration prepares for the transition.

“I’ve heard there were tensions on the council when (Weston) was here, but in my mind that’s a dead issue,” says Councilwoman Welch. “I’m headed towards the future and looking forward to working with Mayor-elect Fischer and with Weston on the team. It’s only a plus at the council and state level.”

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A half-century after the city built the towering “teepee” shelter near Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park, a band of citizens are trying to stop Metro Parks and the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy from demolishing the pavilion.

After learning about a longstanding master plan developed by Metro government and the conservancy to replace the structure with two smaller ones, public outcry to save the wigwam-shaped shelter has heated up in the Highlands neighborhood.

Designed by architect E.J. Schickli, the pavilion became a local legend after surviving the infamous tornado of 1974, which ripped through parts of Cherokee Park.

For supporters, it is a historic landmark that serves as a popular venue where groups gather for picnics, family reunions, wedding receptions, business luncheons and school events.

“Everybody’s going to have their own story about why this place is important to them. I personally believe it’s a one-of-a-kind structure,” says Tammy Madigan, co-chair of Save the Hogan’s Fountain Pavilion in Cherokee Park, a Facebook group with more than 1,700 members. “I know many people who feel a kinship to the pavilion. My husband and I were married there in 2007, so it’s very personal to me. And I’ve had very, very few people tell me it isn’t worth saving.”

These days, however, the pavilion is in serious disrepair with crumbling stonework, decaying roof shingles and graffiti.

Little money has been spent on maintaining the shelter, says Madigan, who alleges that the city has purposefully allowed the pavilion to become an eyesore in order to tear it down.

Metro Parks officials deny charges of intentional neglect, but have indicated it is too costly to repair the pavilion. The city has said it would have to spend $150,000 to replace the roof alone.

Madigan says that amount is based on one estimate, and members of her group have contacted a local company that is willing to charge $82,000 for a new roof and repainting.

The parks department has indicated that if supporters are able to salvage the structure through fundraising then the city won’t go forward with its plans for demolition, which would not happen for at least several years.

“There is absolutely no funding that’s been allocated to destroy the pavilion. This is a master plan that is a long-ranging one,” says Metro Parks spokeswoman Margaret Brosko, adding that no timetable has even been set. “If the community is able to raise the money to renovate the structure, we will not take any action to replace it.”

Still, a philosophical disagreement between the conservancy and pavilion supporters remains. Park preservationists contend the shelter does not fit in with the original design of the park, which opened in 1892 and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

“The teepee was built long after Olmsted’s vision was in place, and his belief in building any type of structure in the parks was that it be subservient to nature,” says Liz DeHart, a spokeswoman for the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy. “If you’re in the park and look out to enjoy the vista, the area should not be impeded by any structure. So from an Olmstedian standpoint, it should come down because it doesn’t work with our direction.”