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September 9, 2009

Jerry's kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

Local developer and political activist Chris Thieneman has entered the race to be Louisville’s next mayor, finally putting his money where his criticisms often are. After threatening to sue the city over the $950,000 forgivable loan given to The Cordish Cos. to redevelop a downtown bar, he listened to supporters who urged him to forgo litigation and put his energies into changing things from the top.

Thieneman will run as a Republican and fiscal conservative who will advocate a better balance of power in government.

Now that he has entered the race, the longtime critic of Mayor Jerry Abramson will be on the receiving end of disapproving analysis. The first issue he’ll have to address is a history of flip-flopping while running for public office.

In 2008, he filed as a candidate for Congress and challenged former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup in the GOP primary. After publicly head-butting with GOP leadership and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who he claimed was conspiring against him, Thieneman dropped out of the race, switched parties to become a Democrat and endorsed Rep. John Yarmuth — all in one interview.

Thieneman quickly recanted and eventually lost the primary by more than 55 percentage points.

This time he won’t waiver, he claims.

“It’s going to happen,” Thieneman says. “I’m determined to make the changes to this strong mayor form of government. And it needs to be altered. None of these other candidates want to change it. They like that power. The first thing I’m going to do as mayor is change that because it’s an invitation for abuse.”

Before critics brush the former U of L football player off, it should be noted that Thieneman has deep pockets, grassroots support and a reputation as a maverick set against the mainstream in both parties.

Jumping ahead of the potential Republican candidate, Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, R-19, who is expected to enter the race by mid-September, Thieneman has disrupted the would-be plans of local GOP officials, who had hoped to avoid a primary.

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Expect probing questions when Metro Animal Services director Dr. Gilles Meloche testifies before the government accountability and oversight committee about his agency’s response to the Aug. 4 flash flood. The committee wants to know more about the evacuation plans and activities at a makeshift shelter set up at the fairgrounds.

Meloche will return next week to testify about an internal audit that found poor record keeping and a shoddy inventory system in a partnership the city had with a local animal adoption group.

Once the public is made aware of all these errors in detail, it should be cause for Meloche’s resignation, says committee Chairman Kelly Downard, R-16.

“I was surprised, very surprised, that the mayor is still standing behind him. I’d be backing away by now,” Downard says. “If we’re still supporting the guy wholeheartedly they must not know everything I know.”

Besides management troubles, Meloche has also had a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a Metro Animal Services employee and a letter of reprimand placed in his personnel file. All that comes after revelations from a few years ago that Meloche’s past is dotted with similar controversies from previous jobs.

Despite the audit and other controversies, the mayor continues to support Meloche, says spokeswoman Kerri Richardson.

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Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, called our office last week to offer a preview of the city’s new online checkbook, established as part of the e-transparency ordinance. The city bill gives citizens online access to the city’s financial records and business dealings, and was launched this week.

With multiple inquiry options, LouisvilleCheckbook.com allows you to search by fund source, departments, categories and suppliers. City budgets from the past three fiscal years are uploaded, but will be updated monthly to include future expenditures.

Due to privacy issues, the site will not list employee payrolls and garnishments, legal judgments or investigative expenses. Even with those exceptions it appears to be the easiest and most comprehensive way for a citizen to track how tax dollars are spent.

It’s another piece of transparency legislation that council Republicans are pleased with having pushed through the council. The 24/7 anonymous tip line for Metro employees should be implemented as early as Oct. 1, says Steve Haag, minority caucus director.

“We’re still trying to work on the ethics ordinance and get a stronger one that everyone can get behind,” Haag says, adding that Fleming has resubmitted an earlier version of the bill. “We pushed it hard and we got stopped at the goal line. The debate will start again this fall. Now is the time for this community to understand why ethics is so important.”