Ethics Commission urges Metro Council to amend laws following Greenberg complaint

In its opinion dismissing the complaint against Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, the Ethics Commission called on Metro Council to specify local guidelines concerning the mayor's spouse and other volunteers.

The complaint was filed in October by Malcomb Haming, former executive director of the Jefferson County Republican Party, about the role of Greenberg's wife and the hiring of Metro Hall interns with close ties to the mayor.

Thursday, the commission voted to dismiss both aspects of the complaint. However, the final order from the commission targets the "ambiguity" in the Ethics Code.

The portions of the complaint related to the role of the mayor's wife in the administration were based on Courier Journal reporting that Rachel Greenberg had a Metro Hall office, an email address and gave orders to staffers. Ethics experts said the arrangement might violate the city's ethics rules, which the administration denied.

In the motion to dismiss the ethics complaint, Greenberg's attorney said Mayor’s Office staff “intermittently interact with Rachel regarding her volunteer service, just like paid staff across Louisville Metro Government often interact with other volunteers.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg was joined by other city officials as he gave an update to the damage following storms that hit Louisville yesterday at Metro Hall in Louisville Ky. on April 3, 2024.
Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg was joined by other city officials as he gave an update to the damage following storms that hit Louisville yesterday at Metro Hall in Louisville Ky. on April 3, 2024.

But current anti-nepotism provisions in the Ethics Code do not "expressly and unambiguously cover volunteers," the order reads.

Mayor's Office Communications Director Scottie Ellis said the Greenberg Administration would support certain changes made by Metro Council.

"... First Lady Rachel Greenberg’s commitment to working with children and schools adds immense value to Louisville and the Greenberg Administration would support changes the Metro Council believes would provide additional clarity so that volunteers, like Rachel, will be encouraged to make a positive impact throughout our city," she said.

While the commission dismissed the complaint "as compelled by existing law," it does not "offer any form of policy endorsement of the apparent role played by the Mayor’s spouse in city administration; nor does the Commission offer any endorsement for this continuing ambiguity in our Ethics Code."

Instead, the commission "urges Metro Council to address this issue with some finality, as has been done by at least one of our sister cities," the complaint reads.

After former Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser’s wife took a desk at city hall when he took office in 2007, the city council passed an ordinance barring family members from volunteering with mayoral administrations. Kansas City's Ethics Code now includes "volunteers" in its nepotism section.

"Any policy maker or ordinary member of the public can plainly see the difficulties and conflicts which can arise in the workplace of Metro Government from deploying a manager’s spouse as a volunteer, and which appear to have arisen in this case," it goes on to say. "Metro Employees working under such a situation have a good faith reason to see it as a confusing and negative experience."

A lawsuit was filed against the Louisville Metro Government in February by former Communications Department staffer Samantha Ricketts. In it, Ricketts alleges she was wrongfully terminated after raising concerns about Rachel Greenberg giving her “direct orders.”

In the lawsuit, Ricketts said another Communications Department staffer was "overwhelmed" by Rachel Greenberg and the mayor's sons because they "text her at all hours giving her opinions and direction on the Mayor's social media accounts." The Courier Journal obtained text messages showing Rachel Greenberg called upon the staffer for social media advice, content and guidance on account verification.

However, Ricketts' lawsuit was dismissed April 3 — less than two months after it was filed. Her lawyer, Thomas Clay, appealed the decision.

The commission said there are "several alternatives open to lawmakers to address this scenario, but doing nothing is a dim option."

One option would be to formally create a "First Spouse" position and define what authority it would encompass. Another would be to include "volunteers" in the anti-nepotism rules, the commission wrote.

"Undoubtedly there are also many other creative ways to tackle the issue besides these, an issue which will be left to the policy-making functions of Metro Government."

Metro Council President Markus Winkler said he respects the Ethics Commission and if they think there is a large gap in the existing rules, then Metro Council should at least evaluate whether they believe there is enough specificity or not.

At this point, he is unsure whether there should be more guidance related to the role of the first lady or volunteer activities.

"Particularly in a workplace if you have ambiguity, that can be problematic," Winkler said. "If there is this ambiguity, then it probably merits determining whether you need some specific guidelines. I wouldn't be able to answer how pronounced the issue is, I just don't have a lot of exposure to it."

Several council members have been considering amending the Ethics Code for a variety of reasons, Winkler said. Any councilor could draft an amendment to the existing laws. Once a proposed revision is ready, it would most likely be assigned to the Government Oversight/Audit and Appointments Committee for discussion. The amendment would then need to pass out of the committee and go to the full council for a vote.

Councilman Brent Ackerson, who chairs the Government Oversight/Audit and Appointments Committee and previously wrote an opinion column defending Rachel Greenberg's role in the administration, said committee member Councilman Ben Reno-Weber will be the "point person" for looking into several Ethics Code changes.

Reach reporter Eleanor McCrary at or at @ellie_mccrary on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Ethics Commission urges council to address role of mayor's wife