What do you do when a council meeting is so emotional–so raw–that it makes the winter a little colder, the night a little darker, and the world a little more vulnerable?
The Louisville Metro Council was a sight to behold: 26 people. Young and old. Black and white. Thick Kentucky accents and thicker Kentucky accents. David Yates, the youthful council president with hair slicker than a mint julep at sunrise, stared icily at the overflowing chamber.
“For those that are addressing the landmark designation of Tremont Drive, the council will not accept any further testimony. ANY attempts by ANYONE will be ruled out of order,” he warned with the gravity of a doctor breaking the news about your husband’s coma.
“Mr. Clerk, would you please bring up our first speaker?”
An older man with a white goatee lumbered to the podium. If you took all of my college professors and mashed them into one person, this would be the dude.
“I am new to the city, having moved here a year ago,” he began casually. “Tonight, I urge the council to delay the granting of a demolition permit for the Powell/Smith House for a couple of reasons. Delaying–”
President Yates sharply cut him off.
“Excuse me. Did you–” he sounded incredulous. “I JUST had to read that we are not to address the landmarks decision. We cannot hear ANY information relating to the landmark.”
The man looked hurt. “Can I continue if I do not?”
The president softened. “If you do not.”
The man adjusted his glasses and stared down at his papers. He paused. “Another reason for delaying the decision on the Powell/Smith House is to allow time to fully document–” home boy picked up exactly where he left off!
Two men behind him covered their mouths stifling laughter. Even his own lips creeped upward into a grin as he shamelessly trolled the council.
President Yates was enraged. He slammed the gavel on his desk. The man looked up.
“I’m done?” the man asked innocently.
Yes, yes he was. His heart was in the right place. But his mouth was not.
As the chamber settled down, Council Member Robin Engel took to the microphone with bittersweet news.
“After 27 years of service, Monica Hodge will be retiring from Metro government,” he beamed at the woman standing to his right. He leaned into the podium and suddenly took on the role of emcee in a “This Is Your Life” trip down memory lane. He waved over Kentucky political titan Rebecca Jackson, who strode to the microphone with an air of confidence.
She grasped Hodge’s hand. “If I reached out my hand and said, ‘come pray with me,’ Monica would come pray with me. We saw a lot of those prayers answered, including those prayers for her health and those prayers for our crazy husbands who never knew where we were. Monica, we love you.” The two women embraced and the chamber erupted in applause and laughter.
But the eulogy wasn’t over yet. Council Member Engel gestured to the ample man with the broad shoulders and a bright tie. “Pastor Hodge?”
“Oh, good evening!” the pastor bellowed with a wide grin. “Let’s take up an offering, that’s what I say! Ha ha ha!” The audience went wild.
“I love my wife. And what you see here is what you see at home. I’ve gone through a lot. Open heart surgery. I do dialysis. But–” his voice quaked and he blinked back tears. His voice became high and tiny. “But I stand here today because I have someone who stands with me. An amazing lady. Your loss is my gain.”
All around him, heads nodded like a Sunday sermon. “Thank you.”
Finally, Hodge stepped forward to a 15-second standing ovation. “I want to give thanks first of all to the lord because ten years ago I didn’t know if I would be standing here tonight, struggling to to get through a day of chemo.” Her husband, the pastor, wiped his eyes.
“Enjoy every tomorrow that you’ve got because you don’t know what life is gonna bring you. You’ve all blessed my life in some way. I thank you for that.”
As Hodge and her entourage cleared the chamber, there was one piece of lingering business that, unpleasant as it was, had to be done.
“We are reviewing the landmarks designation,” President Yates announced heavily. “The commission voted to landmark. The committee voted to overturn. The resolution is now before the full council.”
The lone man wishing to speak was Council Member Tom Owens and he had one heartfelt plea: save this house.
“There is a certain innocence, I think, that we all share. And this innocence is that the landmarking process ought to be without rancor. But the truth of the matter is,” he spoke carefully and quietly, like a tired old lawyer begging the jury not to sentence his client to death, “the truth of the matter is when it comes to the old farmhouse in your subdivision, or in your neighborhood, there is going to be some desire to see that old house” saved.
With dark circles under his eyes, he hunched down in his chair. “Our decision to overturn the Landmarks Commission will, in all likelihood, bring the wrecking ball to that” 145-year old house. “Thank you, colleagues.”
No one else came to his defense. Owens and two others voted to save the house. Twenty-two council members voted to destroy it.
In one night, the city lost a valued employee and a valued home. Such is life in the hollers of Kentucky.