Councilman Steve Magre’s proposed amendment to Metro Government’s public nuisance code — attempting to crack down on hotels notorious for criminal activity — was tabled after its first hearing in the Public Safety Committee Wednesday, as chairman David Yates, D-26, expressed concerns that it might bring a lawsuit and other unintended negative consequences.
Magre’s effort has been spurred by reports this year about the Economy Inn on Bardstown Road, which neighbors have long complained is a haven from crime such as drug dealing and prostitution. The hotel is in District 10, which Magre represents. His ordinance alters the public nuisance code so hotel owners can be cited for repeated criminal activity (now including assault and murder) anywhere on their premises, and possibly have their business shut down if they do not abate the problem.
Multiple witnesses testified for the bill, including former Economy Inn desk clerk Angel Bennett, who first told Insider Louisville in June that she witnessed the hotel’s owners and management ignoring criminal activity, including the possible human trafficking of underage girls. Several residents living near the hotel also testified that drugs and prostitution are rampant and have spilled over into their neighborhoods, complaining that no one is holding the hotel accountable.
Though Councilman Yates applauded Magre for his effort and stressed the need to empower police officers with the ability to crack down on troubled hotels, he supported tabling the ordinance for two more weeks so that hotel business interests could put forth their input and concerns.
“We want to make sure that we’re not negatively impacting the Convention (and Visitors) Bureau and other things like that with unintended consequences that could directly affect our constituents and our bottom dollar, or set ourselves up for a lawsuit,” said Yates.
Asked by Councilman James Peden, R-23, who from the CVB is upset and why, Yates replied that he wanted to make sure businesses’ rights are not trampled by public safety concerns.
“I think some worries and concerns would be that an owner has made an investment into a hotel or some type of property, and then a malicious tort or something else is committed on that property by a third party, they would be held responsible or penalized based on that statute,” said Yates. “We want to make sure that it’s not overreaching.”
Peden objected to delaying a vote over such concerns, saying Magre and assistant county attorney Paul Whitty have worked on the ordinance for a long time with the assistance of local law enforcement.
“We’ve passed so many things in this public safety committee in my 12 years because the police say this is what they need without batting an eye,” said Peden. “I have a real issue not passing this one today, just because some other interest group has made the right amount of phone calls. I’m just saying I’ve read through it, the amendments seem pretty simple.”
After the meeting, Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt told IL that Yates “misspoke,” and that “no one from CVB has contacted him. He was referring to legislation that impacts hotels possibly generating concern from CVB and hotel owners and managers.”
Peden also framed the issue in neighborhood terms, saying public nuisances in the South End are rarely dealt with, while those in the Highlands — such as Cahoots — get swift attention from city officials.
“You get six calls in the Highlands about Cahoots and suddenly they’re having a hearing before the ABC,” said Peden. “Don’t tell me that… our enforcement of these things aren’t politically or neighborhood driven. So I want a law that can be used countywide, anytime we need it for any situation it’s needed. Because we’re certainly not going to be shutting businesses down that are adding to the community… This is a problem and we need to do something now, and I’m willing to send this on today.”
Yates declined the suggestion to move it out of committee, saying they would “hopefully slow this down” so that council members could give more input over the next two weeks and be “a good steward for taxpayers out there.”
Magre did not strenuously object to his ordinance being tabled, but cautioned that the committee should not “jack around” and stall it longer than their next meeting. He also echoed Peden’s concerns about different neighborhoods being treated equally, citing the swift action against Cahoots.
“(Cahoots is) in what part of the city?” asked Magre. “In other parts of the city we have to have stronger laws so we can hold these people accountable. This problem has gone back for five years.”
Aubrey Williams, one of the attorneys for the owners of the Economy Inn, repeated his criticism of Magre and his legislation to IL, saying the city is opening itself up to a lawsuit for unfairly targeting their hotel.
“I would think that the council would take great care before they would pass such a law, because irrespective of how they – and Magre in particular – may frame it, it’s pretty obvious that its focus is on the Economy Inn,” said Williams. “So they need to take great care of that and not allow themselves to be used as a conduit for Magre’s private or political agenda. They have to be careful about special legislation.”
Even though the Economy Inn is not specifically mentioned in the ordinance — and Magre has repeatedly stated there are several hotels in Louisville with the same problems needing to be addressed — Williams said a lawsuit is still possible, as “if they for instance put them out of business – which Magre has stated unequivocally is his agenda – that strikes me as being very un-American.”
Asked what Magre’s alleged agenda is, Williams answered, “I don’t know. He obviously has some kind of agenda that’s being driven by something.”
Magre — who was appointed to his seat this year and whose term will end in December –told IL there is no agenda besides protecting neighbors who have to deal with crime-ridden hotels because of loopholes in the city’s laws.
“It is true I needed to learn about these laws due to the Economy Inn’s incredibly negative impact in my district,” said Magre. “I’m convinced tackling this will assure Louisville has an upgraded law that when used by police will help residents and business owners throughout the city. I’ll say it again: There’s other hotels following the same business model the Economy Inn is getting away with.”
In addition to Williams, the Michigan-based Yaldo brothers who own the Economy Inn also have hired local attorney Glenn Cohen of Seiller Waterman LLC, as well as Michigan public relations firm Mort Meisner Associates.