Louisville, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville Metro Council has been a mess lately. Judy Green was stripped of her seat for misusing taxpayer money to benefit family members. And Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin is facing an ethics investigation for doing the same thing.
Now a WAVE 3 Troubleshooter investigation uncovers prior complaints against Shanklin and Green weren't investigated because of a system that shields Metro Council members from an ethics tip line meant to keep government honest.
Troubleshooter Eric Flack dug through hundreds of pages of tip line reports to find out more and found in 2011 7 out of every 10 complaints to the Louisville Metro Ethics Tip line either wasn't investigated or resulted in no corrective action taken against the employee accused of wrong doing. Maybe most surprising? The group that might need a watchdog more than anyone is exempt from the ethics tip line all together.
The city wants Louisville Metro employees like Bob Burke to be the eyes and ears of government.
"Everybody should know somebody is paying attention to what they are doing," Burke said.
The Louisville Metro Ethics Tip line is a way to report city employees who break the rules. Everything from conflicts of interest to fraud, discrimination and sexual harassment. Now a WAVE 3 Troubleshooter investigation has uncovered some of those complaints against some the most powerful people in Louisville Metro Government are being ignored.
"The tip line the way that it is set up applies only to metro employees," said District 11 Councilman Kevin Kramer.
We discovered Metro Council members, who are classified as officers not employees, are exempt from the tip line.
We uncovered documents that show in May 2010, more than a year before Judy Green was removed from the Metro Council for misusing taxpayer money to benefit family members, she was reported to the ethics tip line for allegedly taking $600 from a business owner to help him get a liquor license
And a March 2011 complaint alleging misuse of taxpayer money by 7 current and former Metro Council members, including Shanklin and Green, was also closed with no investigation. The report read council members are "not under the purview of the ethics tip line."
Kramer, who introduced the ordinance creating the ethics tip line back in 2009, said that's an issue that needs to be "looked at." But added many of his fellow council members don't want to be subject to the rules of the tip line, which provide complete confidentially to the person reporting the ethics violation.
"If we put those things in that you are talking about than the tip line wouldn't have passed," Kramer told Troubleshooter Eric Flack.
"They don't want to allow that some anonymous person could make a phone call and launch an investigation into what's going on the council."
Instead, the Metro Council created it's own ethics ordinance in 2010. It requires any complaints against council members be signed and notarized removing the shield of confidentiality that protects whistle blowers using the regular tip line. Old council footage shows some even tried to narrow the scope of their ethics ordinance by reducing the number of family members covered under the rules.
Barbara Shanklin was one of those who unsuccessfully tried to limit the council's ethics ordinance, then abstained from the vote passing it. Even Judy Green didn't do that.
"I think we want to stay transparent," Green said at the time. "I think that is what's going to make this process work."
The Louisville Metro Office of Internal Audit agrees. In the 2011 annual report on the ethics tip line, sent to Mayor Greg Fischer, auditors cited the Metro Council loophole as one of the tip line's biggest problems writing "Metro Officers should consult with the Jefferson County Attorney" and consider "allowing anonymous complaints" against metro officers.
Months later, Mayor Fischer said that report is still being studied.
"It's in staff right now," Fischer said. "I'll take a look at that again and see what the status of it is."
Metro Government employees like Cathy Hargrove will be watching.
"It should cover everyone," Hargrove said, "especially nowadays."
Criminal allegations against council members reported to the ethics tip line are passed on to the police department. We uncovered a complaint from the summer of 2010 against Judy Green for the exact same allegations she was eventually ousted for a year later.
Mayor Fischer thinks all ethics violations against council members should be investigated, even anonymous ones to the tip line.
"If this is an area we can improve," Fischer said, "we will do it."
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