Panel could remove Councilman Dan Johnson for already violating terms of last week’s settlement

Council members Rick Blackwell, Barbara Shanklin and Barbara Sexton Smith (left to right) of the panel reviewing Councilman Dan Johnson addressed the media Monday afternoon. | Photo by Joe Sonka

A three-member panel created by the settlement last week between Councilman Dan Johnson and the Metro Council Court will hold a meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss two complaints alleging the councilman has already violated terms of that settlement, and determine if he should be immediately removed from office.

The panel made up of three Metro Council members — referred to in the settlement as the “triumvirate” — met in private for two hours on Monday, despite the fact that no public notice was issued for the meeting, as is required under the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

After this meeting with assistant county attorney Matt Golden, Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith acknowledged they “were advised that we should give a 24-hour notice for any special meetings, and we believe that the meeting today was not properly noticed.” Sexton Smith — along with panel members Rick Blackwell and Barbara Shanklin — then scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Metro Council chambers, in adherence with state law.

Under advice from Golden, none of the panel members answered questions from the media about the meeting, including whether they discussed evidence in closed session from the complaints filed against Johnson since last week.

Johnson agreed to the terms of the settlement Wednesday at the first and last day of his removal trial, in which admitted to “both transgressions and wrongdoings” and agreed to follow a serious of stipulations, including that he would only be allowed in city hall “during the twenty minutes before, during, and the twenty minutes after regularly scheduled committee meetings and Council meetings.”

The settlement terms also required Johnson to refrain from “any intentional or accidental exposure of this genitals or buttock,” a reference to the allegations of sexual harassment he faced in the removal trial. The settlement also stipulated that Johnson “shall comport himself in such a manner as to not bring scorn or disrepute on his office” and must not violate “the letter or spirit of the agreement.”

The settlement goes on to state that if two-thirds of the triumvirate believes that Johnson violated the terms, this would result in “his immediate and summary removal.” It also stated that Johnson “waives any right to appeal of this triumvirate’s decision and will abide by any finding that they may issue.”

As the Courier Journal reported Monday morning, Councilwoman Angela Leet filed a complaint with the office of Metro Council President David Yates the day after the trial last week, alleging that she and other witnesses saw Johnson in city hall 28 minutes after the Council Court adjourned, arguing that this violated the 20-minute rule. Johnson and his attorney, Thomas McAdam, argue that the settlement only referred to council and committee meetings — not the Council Court — and there was no stipulation when its terms would begin.

McAdam told IL that if the three-member panel tried to expel Johnson based on Leet’s complaint, it would lead to legal action, calling “this whole thing is a farce.” He added that Johnson only remained in city hall for that long last week because he “simply didn’t want to wait for his wife in the rain. The ink was not even dry on the settlement and they try this. It shows they are not operating in good faith.”

On Monday, Councilman Bill Hollander also emailed a complaint to Yates, arguing that Johnson had violated the terms of the settlement in an interview given to WDRB and a post on his Facebook page on Thursday.

In the WDRB interview, Johnson confusingly stated: “I still say I did nothing wrong, but actually some of those incidents happened just like they said they did. So if that’s the case, I guess I did something wrong. But I didn’t do it.” Later that night, Johnson posted on Facebook that “I won my battle at the council with your help and I appreciate it so much.”

In his complaint, Hollander claimed that these statements “directly contradict Councilman Johnson’s admissions of transgressions and wrongdoing sufficient to warrant his removal and his consent to removal for those actions, subject only to a stay under stringent conditions.”

“The false statements ‘bring scorn or disrepute on his office, Metro Council, the Louisville Metro Government, or the people he serves,’ which Paragraph 12 of the Stipulation and Agreed Order prohibits,” wrote Hollander. “Councilman Johnson has clearly violated the letter and spirit of the agreement (either of which is grounds to lift the stay under Paragraph 13 of the Stipulation and Agreed Order), and I request that the stay on his removal be lifted immediately.”

Jon Fleischaker, a prominent First Amendment, open records and open meetings attorney in Louisville, told IL that the three-member panel had definitely broken the open meetings law by not issuing a public notice of Monday’s meeting, let alone its exact time and location. He added that while today’s actions by the panel were “regrettable,” as long as its members merely discussed legal issues with the assistant county attorney in private, that was allowable under law.

However, Fleischaker added that the panel members must review complaints, evidence and videos in an open session. If these members did so in the private executive session, he said there was “a decent argument that this hurts the whole process” of the panel.

The panel members did not take questions from the media on if they viewed security video footage of Johnson from Wednesday during the private, closed session.

As for Hollander’s complaint, Fleischaker also questioned whether such an interpretation of the settlement would be a violation of Johnson’s First Amendment right to speak about his own case and experiences, though, adding that this matter involving the settlement and three-member panel is “new territory” for all involved.

Johnson’s settlement stipulated that the triumvirate would be made up of an appointee chosen by Johnson, the Charging Committee seeking to remove him, and Yates, though Republican Caucus director Steve Haag told IL that the committee was not allowed to make such a selection. While Blackwell was on the Charging Committee, Haag said its members did not select him for the panel, as this was done by Yates.

Yates has not returned a request for comment to IL on the selection of the panel’s members.

Michael Jones contributed to reporting for this story.