Monday, February 3, 2003

Louisville metro government has hired only Democrats



By Sheldon S. Shafer
The Courier-Journal

Take a look at the top staff surrounding Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson and you will see a group as diverse as the new metro Louisville itself - men and women, black and white, urban and rural.

Just don't expect to see any Republicans.

All 14 of Abramson's top advisers are, like the metro mayor, registered Democrats. That includes four deputy mayors, four senior staff members, five cabinet secretaries and new police chief Robert White.

Never gave it a thought, Abramson contends.

Business as usual, miffed Republicans say.

Despite his promises of bipartisanship and cooperation, Abramson has fallen back on old party friends, Republicans say.

Abramson has ''insulated himself with a bunch of Democrats,'' said Jack Richardson IV, the Jefferson County Republican Party chairman. "He has a history of this. Anyone who thinks he would act any differently than a partisan Democrat needs to wake up.''

In a statement, Abramson said he "never asked anybody whether they are a Democrat, Republican or independent'' before hiring them. And Abramson spokesman Chad Carlton said the metro mayor was "not actually aware that they were all Democrats.''

"This is the first time I've heard a complaint about the team I have put together,'' Abramson said. "In fact, I've gotten nothing but compliments from Republicans and Democrats alike about the strength and caliber of the people I selected.''

Republicans counter that Abramson had ample opportunity to hire qualified GOP staff members. Former Judge-executive Rebecca Jackson, a Republican, said several of her GOP advisers were interested in working for the metro government, including deputy judge-executive Lorie Beavin, human resources director Otis Reed and chief financial officer Beth Stenberg.

All were passed over by Abramson.

Beavin said that after the Nov. 5 election, she told Abramson's transition team that "I would like to work for them.'' She said that she met several times with Joan Riehm, now deputy mayor, and that Riehm told her "to be patient, we're working on it, that she'd be back in touch.''

But on Dec. 31, a week before merger, Beavin said Riehm told her, "I don't have anything for you.''

Beavin, who is convinced that she wasn't hired because of her party affiliation, said that she took Riehm "at her word. I found out that it is not worth a lot.''

Riehm said she promised Beavin nothing more than that she would be considered for a job. "We checked her references as we did others and ultimately we couldn't find an appropriate fit,'' Riehm said. "Her party affiliation had nothing to do with what happened.''

Several of former Louisville Mayor Dave Armstrong's top Democratic staff members also weren't offered jobs, including chief of staff Steve Tedder and human-services director Hilary Bohanon, Carlton said.

Abramson's transition team went through more than 800 resumes, Carlton said. One of the three people leading that team was Bob Horton, a Republican and a retired banking executive, he said.

"We looked for skill and experience,'' he said. "We didn't ask party affiliation, and no one offered it.''

GOP leaders argue that Republicans were instrumental in gaining voter approval of the city-county merger in November 2000 and that many Republicans voted for Abramson last fall, when he was elected metro mayor with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Jackson, now a Republican candidate for governor, said she hired several Democrats as senior aides, including Schuyler Olt as chief administrative officer. A year and a half later, Olt switched parties.

Jackson said Abramson told her before the November election that he probably "would need to have some Republicans on his staff, because he was representing the whole county.''

"I did it differently,'' Jackson said.




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