David James is a longtime Louisville Metro councilman who became president this year. We talked about an odd twist to the oath of office, how council members spend money in meetings, and about the sexual harassment proceedings against a former councilman.
Q: On January 11 you became the new council president. And I hope you’ll forgive me when I say that the more interesting part of that meeting was when your clerk was sworn in a few minutes later. This was part of the oath:
Do you further solemnly affirm that since the adoption of the present constitution, you have not fought a duel with deadly weapons, nor have you sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have you acted as a second in carrying a challenge?
How big of a problem is dueling in Kentucky that it has to be part of the oath?
A: Apparently back in the day it was a huge problem in the state of Kentucky and they have left that as part of the oath that everybody takes throughout the state, I guess for historical and cultural purposes.
Q: You used to be a police officer. How many times would you break up a duel by saying, “hey. Hey! If you don’t cut it out, you’ll never be sworn in as a municipal officer!”
A: It never happened! I don’t think anybody would listen to me anyway.
Q: We could talk about dueling all day, but this program is about city council meetings. The Louisville Metro council is a smorgasbord of intrigue that makes the Minneapolis city council look like the Branson board of aldermen! Can you explain what “neighborhood development funds” are?
A: Each council member receives $75,000 a year in neighborhood development funds that they get to assign for different purposes. Whether that is to help a nonprofit, or if that’s to put in lighting in a railroad underpass, or if that’s to fund some other organization doing good work in the community.
Q: So if you had an organization that, say, produced quality audio content about city council meetings and they wanted to apply, and there was a council member or even council president who supported that cause, how would I–I mean, that organization, get some of that easy cash–I mean, neighborhood development money?
A: You apply for the grant. You have to list your board members and what you’re going to do with the funding. And it’d be up to the council member to introduce it and council would vote on it yes or no.
Q: In the meetings, when council members distribute money through NDFs, it’s like a slowed-down version of an auction. Is it that spontaneous when it happens in a meeting?
A: People have already signed on for X number of dollars by the time it gets to that point. They come to the council meeting as a last opportunity to join in on that. Once we have voted on it, you can’t add any more money to it. It’s the last opportunity.
Q: It’s like going door to door as a Girl Scout selling cookies, and your mom just gets the rest of the orders at her office that day to backfill it.
A: That’s it. There you go.
Q: There is this overtone of salesmanship in these NDFs and it can take the form of guilting people into spending money.
A: Oh, absolutely.
Q: I get that this is politics and you have to be a bit of a cheerleader, but does any of this seem more theatrical than it needs to be?
A: No, not really. You’re just advocating for the particular cause that you believe in.
Follow Council President David James on Twitter: @CouncilmanJames