In 120 days, the fate of Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, is expected to be sealed.
Insider reported earlier today that five council members — Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12; Councilman Brandon Coan, D-8; Councilman Robin Engel, R-22; Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1; and Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7 — have formed a charging committee aimed at removing Johnson from office.
Johnson made headlines after allegedly grabbing Green’s buttock and exposed his own to one of Leet’s legislative aides, among numerous other allegations.
“We do regret the nature of having to bring this charging committee together. I’m thankful that our colleagues are working together to address this concern,” Leet said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “I think we’ve stated in the past, having a safe work environment and maintaining the respect and integrity of this office and what we try to do for our constituents out in the community is of utmost importance.”
Leet said they hoped to move the hearing process against Johnson forward as quickly as possible.
After the press conference concluded, Johnson told Insider that he planned to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act, citing “severe neck pain.”
He and his attorney have maintained that Johnson has done nothing wrong, including stating that he accidentally brushed Green’s buttocks and that his recent troubles may be the result of a 40-year-old brain injury.
Prior to the announcement of the charging committee, the Democratic caucus had given Johnson a deadline of Aug. 1 to resign from Metro Council.
When he did not, “We felt like we had no other option,” Green said. “We had hoped he’d decided to do that.”
The charging committee will have 30 days to build its case, and then the council will have another 60 days to set a hearing date. The total process is expected to take around 120 days, Green said.
Johnson must pay for his own legal representative.
At the hearing, Johnson and the charging committee will each make their cases in front of a jury of peers — other council members. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office has not weighed in on whether the members of the charging committee will be allowed to vote in the matter.
“The council has no law or ordinance to enforce, but instead, they have higher standards that apply to all elected officials that much be enforced,” said Deborah Kent, legal counsel with Louisville Metro Ethics Commission, who is representing the charging committee. “That is what their decision must be based on, those higher standards of common sense and decency and prudence and clarity.”
Kent told reporters that action was being taken because “of what has played out in the public eye” and Johnson’s actions reflect back on other council members and local government.
However, she and the charging committee members declined to comment when asked if the council members would be taking steps to remove Johnson had the media not reported on Johnson’s alleged behavior.
One reporter asked why action wasn’t taken sooner, noting that The Courier-Journal archives included articles from nearly 20 years ago about alleged misbehavior by Johnson.
“None of these council members can speak to what any past council member or board of alderman did before the merger,” Kent said. “This is the situation we are in today. There’s no need to go back and dig up everything because it’s in the past. What we are looking at is what is happening today.”
Kent encouraged council members not to vote based on their personal opinions and experiences — whether good or bad — of Johnson, but later stated that council members needed to ensure that the citizenry was aware that it did not approve of or condone the councilman’s alleged behavior.
“It’s clear that there is a problem, and it is clear that something is dreadfully wrong and must be fixed,” she said. “The problem will not fix itself.”
Kent pointed to Johnson’s behavior as “a pattern that’s emerging that seems to have been accelerating just recently, just in the past couple of years.”
If he remains on the council, Johnson could go up for re-election next year. Following the recent allegations, he initially promised not to run for office again but has since backtracked on that promise.
Leet said that Johnson’s alleged behavior creates a potential liability for local government.
“We have a safe work environment that we have to maintain,” she said. “I think we have to be proactive in ensuring protection for employees within this building as well as constituents in the community.”
Metro Council President David Yates set out restrictions for Johnson, including staying off the second floor of the Louisville Metro Council building and giving a one-hour notice of his arrival. Leet went as far as to hire private security after Johnson’s attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to her aide threatening legal action.
“We weren’t sure what to expect from his behaviors, and they certainly haven’t gotten better,” Leet said.