The Louisville Metro Democratic Caucus on Thursday passed a resolution that expelled Councilman Dan Johnson from their ranks and urged him to resign voluntarily from the council by Aug. 1 or face formal removal proceedings.
The resolution was passed by over two-thirds of the caucus following a nearly two-hour closed-door gathering of the Democratic conclave. Only three caucus members — Barbara Shanklin, D-2; Mary Woolridge, D-3; and Madonna Flood-24 — abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote. The expulsion circumvents Johnson’s voluntary resignation from the caucus, which he offered in a bizarre June 29 press conference
Johnson, D-21, has been under heavy fire over allegations that he sexually harassed Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, and a legislative aide to Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, as well as for his erratic public response to those allegations.
“Councilman Johnson’s actions are inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which members of the Metro Council should be held, have brought embarrassment and public scorn upon the Caucus and the Council, and are deserving of public censure and expulsion from the Caucus,” the resolution read.
Further, the resolution explicitly condemns Johnson for his actions toward Green, which include allegedly grabbing her buttocks during a photo op at Wyandotte Park, and for his “false allegation that he was harassed” by her; expels him from the Democratic Caucus following an evidentiary hearing, which Johnson declined to cooperate with; and urges him to resign from the council and not seek re-election or face “removal action by members of our Caucus.”
In response to the resolution, Johnson’s legislative aide sent IL a statement in which the councilman again denies the allegations and makes clear he has no plans to vacate his council seat willingly.
“I did not ever sexually harass Councilwoman Green or the legislative aide. This has been another desperate and malicious act by a few Democratic caucus members wishing to install their hand picked crony as a Council Member,” Johnson said. “I will continue to express my innocence and I am eager to clear my name of these allegations while doing my best every day to serve the 21st District. I was elected by the 21st District to serve the people for four years and I intend to do just that until the end of my term in office.”
Following the vote and subsequent adjournment of the meeting, caucus president Bill Hollander, D-9, made a statement condemning Johnson further.
“Councilman Johnson’s actions are inconsistent with the standards of conduct that we should expect of any public official and any member of the Metro Council,” Hollander said.
Hollander says members of his caucus will be prepared to file formal charges of removal against Johnson should he decline to accept the Aug. 1 deadline. In that event, it would take a vote of five council members to convene a so-called “council court,” which would initiate public hearings against Johnson for the purposes of his removal from Metro Council.
Steve Haag, spokesman for the Metro Republican Caucus, said several GOP council members would join in such a vote with their Democratic counterparts.
“Our members have serious concerns over his continued presence here at the council,” Haag told Insider Louisville. “A large number of our members have called for his resignation and believe that his actions over the last few months have caused even greater concern.”
Hollander acknowledges that such a process won’t be simple. Five members of the council must form what is known as a charging committee, which would initiate the formal introduction of charges against Johnson within a quorum of the Metro Council. Johnson then would be able to defend himself via counsel against the charges, resulting in a trial within the council chambers. Following the trial, a two-thirds vote by the entire council would be required to remove Johnson from his South Louisville seat, which he has held for over two decades, as he previously served on the Board of Alderman.
Even if Johnson is found guilty and removed, however, he could appeal the decision with Jefferson Circuit Court, fueling the time and expense needed to reach a legal resolution, one that could take several months.
“It’s a long process, and that’s one of the reasons we are asking Councilman Johnson to resign, to avoid that process,” Hollander said. “It’s an expensive process for the community. It’s a time-consuming process.”
Johnson briefly appeared in the third floor hallway during the closed-door caucus session but declined interviews with reporters before briskly exiting through a stairwell. Despite a quasi-apology made to his accusers last month, he has filed a cease-and-desist letter against Green regarding her public revelation of the alleged incident, and has flatly denied the allegations against him, a defiance most recently reiterated in a Wednesday interview with WHAS 84 broadcaster Terry Meiners.
On that program, Johnson maintained his innocence and lambasted the media, particularly Courier-Journal reporter Phillip M. Bailey for covering the allegations.
Over the ensuing 18-minute interview, Meiners asked Johnson a variety of questions involving other alleged incidents, including one of indecent exposure toward a legislative aide to Republican Councilwoman Angela Leet in a downtown parking lot near Metro Council chambers.
“You would remember if your pants came down, in a parking lot in a public place where someone saw you and she said, and I’m paraphrasing, that then she got in her car and you walked past her car?”
“I don’t remember anything about that, Terry.”
“Are you on medication?” Meiners followed up.
“No, sir,” Johnson replied.
“Is it possible you were inebriated? You had some drinks?”
“I don’t think so,” Johnson said. “We don’t have drinks at Metro Council.”
Johnson insisted to Meiners that for most of his life, he has always had trouble with belts and keeping his pants from falling down.
The councilman also told Meiners that he “drank so much beer” during a September 2016 Greater Louisville Inc. trip that he couldn’t remember what happened — particularly when it came to allegations that a drunken Johnson harassed a female GLI staffer on the trip. Subsequently, GLI made it clear Johnson was no longer welcome at chamber events.
Johnson said he wasn’t sorry for the behavior at the root of these allegations, but for his alleged victims’ perception of his behavior.
“The insincerity of Councilman Johnson’s apologies is disturbing, extremely disturbing, to the caucus” Hollander said. “And I think we saw that again yesterday,” he added, referring to Meiners’ interview.
Hollander said Johnson was invited to attend Thursday’s special caucus meeting but declined to do so.
Johnson also told Meiners he would ignore requests made of him by Metro Council President David Yates, D-25, to notify Metro Hall in advance of his arrival — giving his accusers time to prepare and move elsewhere — and to avoid floors of government buildings in which his accusers work.
“I will never do that, because I’m a councilman and I’m able to go to my office if I feel like it” Johnson said during the interview.
In response, Yates told IL that his position as council president never gave him the authority to moderate Johnson’s movements, but that “his decision not to honor those [requests] is just that: his decision.”
Councilwoman Green’s attorney, Brian Butler, said his client is satisfied with the actions taken by the caucus, and that she has no plans at present to file criminal charges against Johnson.
“I think this was the strongest message that they could have possibly sent on behalf of councilwoman Green,” Butler said. “Everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect, dignity, regardless of their gender, and we hope that this doesn’t happen anymore, and that we can all move on.”
Johnson would be the third member of the council to have removal proceedings initiated against them, and he could be the second member to be removed if found guilty and voted out. In 2011, the council unanimously voted to remove the late Judy Green, mother of Jessica Green, following revelations that she misappropriated city money toward youth groups in which she held a personal stake, even after Green voluntarily resigned. In 2013, Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin narrowly avoided removal by one vote after a council court debated her culpability in diverting public funding to an ex-offender outreach group with which she was involved.