Metro Council narrowly voted to approve the nomination of Ricky L. Jones to a citizens police accountability board, ending weeks of controversy that is atypical for appointments to city boards and commissions.
The controversy arose after Sgt. Dave Mutchler, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, and Councilwoman Julie Denton, R-19, took the rare step of objecting to Mayor Greg Fischer’s appointment of Jones, claiming the University of Louisville professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies was not fit to serve on the board because of his criticism of police in the past. Jones countered by lambasting Mutchler and Denton in subsequent interviews, social media posts and columns, suggesting they are opposed to what he termed “uppity Negroes.”
After a brief discussion on the floor of the chamber Thursday evening, Metro Council voted to approve Jones’ appointment to the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability Board — which has only an advisory role to the mayor and police chief, with no investigatory or disciplinary powers — by a nearly party-line vote. All Republicans present voted against Jones, with all but three Democrats voting for him: Councilman David James, D-6, abstained due to belonging to the police union and working at UofL, Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, voted present, while Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, voted no.
Ackerson informed his colleagues hours earlier in the Democratic Caucus meeting why he would be voting against Jones — claiming Jones lacked “tact” and was not “impartial,” among other reasons — which brought forth criticism from several African-American members who took issue with his complaints.
In the caucus meeting, Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, said that members should not let the FOP intimidate them into voting against Jones, saying “if we let the FOP decide who we appoint to any board or commission, we’re heading down a darned slippery slope.”
Ackerson then explained why he would be voting against Jones, adding that “I’m not driven by the FOP. I’m not driven by anybody.” He said that as a lawyer, “I want an impartial jury. And this committee is an investigative committee… I want open-mindedness.”
While saying that Jones “serves a great role in this community” by being an “outspoken critic” in his columns, Ackerson compared him to conservative political and media firebrands who are too outspoken.
“It’s kind of like if the mayor’s office sent over (White House strategist) Steve Bannon,” said Ackerson. “I’d say ‘hell no.’ Or (former Fox News host) Bill O’Reilly, I’d say ‘hell no.’ Because they’re not that impartialness I’m looking for. I don’t think they also have the tact, because they’re outspoken.”
To further prove his point, Ackerson played a recording from his phone — that was hooked up to a television monitor in the room — of Jones’ appearance as a guest on Terry Meiners’ WHAS radio show, where he criticized Mutchler.
When he was preparing the recording, Woolridge mocked Ackerson by saying “Oh, he’s got a show and tell.”
Ackerson played a brief portion of the interview in which Jones said he initially didn’t care about serving on the committee. In response, Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-14, told Ackerson the clip was “way out of context,” saying he should play what Jones said right after that section, when he indicated he would serve on the committee.
After Ackerson played more of the tape, Woolridge muttered, “My temper is getting up here.” After he was done with the recording, Ackerson attempted to further explain his opposition, which drew a tense exchange with Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5.
Ackerson: “For me it boils down to being tactful. If this was a Rev. (Kevin) Cosby, if this was Bobby…”
Hamilton: (interrupting) “Any of the ‘good ones’”?
Ackerson: “It has nothing to do with… you want to make it…
Hamilton: “It is! Come on, Brent.”
Ackerson: “Someone with some tact, who doesn’t go on a radio show and call people out and say all of this…
Hamilton: “Who meet your criteria.”
Ackerson: “OK, so now you want to call me a racist?!”
Hamilton: “I didn’t say that.”
“It’s a question of someone having tact,” continued Ackerson. “Someone having a way to talk through problems. When someone says you’re wrong, you don’t say ‘you’re a racist’ or ‘you’re stupid,’ because that’s what he went on the air and said. Calling people out. You don’t do that. You argue your points.”
Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, asked Ackerson if he just opposed Jones because he was vocal, saying “you don’t get to tell a grown man that he can’t talk and say what he wants to say. That’s ridiculous.”
Woolridge added that the commission in question is only an advisory committee that makes recommendations, comparing it to “a bulldog with no teeth.” Noting that only two of the 11 members of the commission are black, she asked “why is everyone so intimidated to put three African-Americans on this panel? And everybody here knows that majority rules, doesn’t it? Ricky Jones is one person.”
Councilman Blackwell also defended Jones, saying that while he sometimes disagrees with his opinions and how they’re expressed, “I think what he does do for the community is challenge people’s assumptions, and he helps us to challenge our own assumptions.” He added that using a Meiners clip itself is out of context, as the interview was more of the host’s typical “skits” and not a forum for serious discussion of issues.
After the caucus meeting, Ackerson told IL he was offended by the implications of Hamilton when she used air quotes about him wanting “one of the good ones.”
“I don’t understand what they mean by ‘one of the good ones,'” said Ackerson. “The implication to that is that I want some… you know… person who is… maybe not as… you’d really have to ask them what they mean by one of the ‘good ones.'”
Ackerson continued: “If Cheri Bryant [Hamilton] were up for that board, I would consider her having the tact and the intelligence and the diplomatic way of approaching things. I would vote her onto that board. So I guess she’s one of the good ones that I’m talking about… you’d have to ask her.”
Ackerson said he has received calls from constituents both for and against the appointment of Jones, but “all I can do is vote my conscience, and my conscience today is voting on the fact that I don’t think Ricky Jones is the right fit for this board.”
Responding to the suggestion that Meiners’ show has a theatrical nature, Ackerson said, “If I go on the Terry Meiners show, I’m going to talk about things in the manner that holds dignity to the office and the commission that I’m looking to serve on.”
Asked if there should now be increased vetting of boards and commissions appointees’ past public statements, Ackerson answered “potentially.”
During the subsequent full council meeting, Ackerson repeated many of his points, with the four African-American women on the council all speaking up for Jones’ appointment to the advisory council, with some suggesting the UofL professor was being “vilified.”
“Martin Luther King, Anne Braden, Muhammad Ali — they were all individuals who were hated and vilified because of their outspokenness,” Hamilton said. “Later, they were deified. Let’s not make a mistake here.”
“We say that Dr. Jones is outspoken, and so is the FOP president… he’s outspoken, too,” Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, said to applause from the audience. “Almost every one of us in here is outspoken… so there’s nothing wrong with being outspoken… If it’s something dear to us, we’re all outspoken.”
Councilwoman Green noted that while Ackerson made an analogy to wanting impartial members of the commission just as you would want impartial members of a court jury, the police commission merely makes recommendations and does not sit in judgement of police officers like a jury would. She added that the city recently has had difficulty filling vacancies on its many boards and commissions and said what Jones has gone through might exacerbate this problem.
“What average citizen is going to step forward and say ‘sign me up’ if they have to lay themselves open to a process that Dr. Jones has had to endure like this?” asked Green. “I certainly hope that we don’t put citizens through this. We want people to step up, and this has just been horrible, in my opinion.”
Green addressed Ackerson by adding: “If you don’t want to vote for Dr. Jones, don’t vote for him. That’s fine. But to continue to have statements and to vilify him is not something that I believe is appropriate.”
Just before the vote was taken, Ackerson addressed these comments and said he did not intend to vilify Jones.
“If I vilified Dr. Jones or it came across as being vilified, it was not my intention,” said Ackerson. “If that was viewed, then Dr. Jones, I apologize. It was not my attempt to vilify, and if it came across that way, I’m sorry.”
After Jones’ nomination was approved by an 11-8 vote, he tweeted: “2nite was a victory for decency, dignity, democracy, truth, & GOOD POLICE! People of Louisville: THANK YOU 4 YOUR LOVE! I love you back!❤️”
Sgt. Mutchler sent IL a statement accusing council members who voted for Jones of endorsing the use of “un-American” personal attacks, which he finds “shameful.”
“The use of personal attacks in an attempt to stifle free speech, ideas, opinions or objection is un-American,” stated Mutchler. “We all watched it happen over the last few weeks. With their vote last night this type of behavior is what some council members are expressly endorsing and suggesting is acceptable conduct for those who sit on Louisville Metro boards or commissions. It’s shameful.”