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The first year hasn’t been easy for lawyer/businessman-turned-mayor Craig Greenberg as he has struggled to make the transition from a world where secrecy is prized and protected to one in which he is supposed to work in public.
And while all of his problems haven’t been related to his administration’s penchant for secrecy, his desire to work without your prying eyes has played a role in several of them.
And so, without further ado, here’s our list of the top seven mistakes that have made for a difficult first year for Greenberg. (Why seven? As Bluto Blutarsky said when Larry Kroger asked why his Delta Tau Chi pledge name was “Pinto.” “Why not?”)
Mistake No. 1: Allowing his wife to hang around the mayor's office
This is nothing against Rachel Greenberg, but she should not have a role in the mayor’s office; she shouldn’t have an office there, and she shouldn’t be giving orders. And if she’s not giving orders, she ought not be asking favors, making suggestions or tossing out ideas.
The reason for that is any order, suggestion, request or idea doesn’t seem like it’s coming from her; any order, suggestion, request or idea seems like it’s coming from Craig Greenberg – you know, the guy who was elected – and employees won’t know if their job depends on following that order, suggestion, request or idea.
What’s more, embracing the secrecy the administration seems to love, Greenberg won’t say exactly what his wife is doing with a government office, computer and cell phone. Ugh.
Mistake No. 2: Hiring interns from wealthy families in a program for disadvantaged youth
The idea for the program is good. Take kids from poor neighborhoods and give them jobs in government offices to prepare them to enter the workforce. Focus on kids who live in low-income ZIP codes as a way to make sure those most in need of the experience get it.
The problem is, when it came to the Greenberg administration’s first summer, it filled the ranks of interns in the mayor’s office with young women from wealthy families – including the families of former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s Matthew Barzun and 21c Museum Hotel founder Steve Wilson.
Both families contributed significant money to Greenberg’s election campaign. Not a good look.
Mistake No. 3: Giving city funds to a for-profit organization of which Rachel Greenberg was a board member
Last month, The Courier Journal reported that the city had given $20,000 to a for-profit organization called RAARE – Radical Action Advancing Racial Equality − that was holding a conference in Louisville.
The conference – geared toward rich white women – cost between $750 and $1,500 per person. The goal of the conference was to teach “inclined white women” how to improve racial relations and create a more equitable world. It also would help white women get rid of “long-held guilt and shame” by attending.
If the whole concept of giving public money to a for-profit corporation that was already charging rich white women $750 to $1,500 to attend wasn’t bad enough, we came to find out that Rachel Greenberg was on the company’s board of directors.
NO! Just NO!
Mistake No. 4: Overhyping decision to remove firing pins from guns
When he was running for mayor, Greenberg announced that he would order police to mangle guns used in crimes that are required to be turned over to the Kentucky State Police, which then auctions them off. That way, the guns would be rendered useless.
But once he got into office, Greenberg learned he couldn’t do that without violating the law. And so, he changed his plans.
He put out an advisory in February that promised a “Significant Announcement on Confiscated Firearms & Public Safety.”
The problem is, it really wasn’t significant at all.
The plan was to slap stickers on guns saying they had been used in crimes and remove the firing pins from the guns – but to package the firing pins along with the guns for auction. Most gunsmiths can replace pins in just a few minutes.
It would have been better if he just said, “Yeah, we couldn’t do what we wanted, but we’re going to do the most we can to state our opposition. It’s not much and we wish we could do more.”
Mistake No. 5: Announcing Louisville would burn down a home possibly full of bombs
Late this summer, Greenberg, who apparently has listened to too much Talking Heads music in his life, announced he was – wait for it – burning down the house.
Not just any house, but a house in Highview that was owned by a hoarder who had filled it with explosive materials. City officials were going to light it up but only after they evacuated the neighborhood.
As the Talking Heads said, “Here’s your ticket, pack your bags, time for jumpin’ overboard.”
But then the Environmental Protection Agency came in and said, “Hold tight. We’re in for nasty weather. There has got to be a way. Burning down the house.”
They were not the least bit in favor of, as the Heads said, fightin’ fire with fire.
Instead, the EPA removed the house’s roof and walls and carefully sifted through the home’s contents. It processed the chemicals in a steel tank on the property and then shipped everything off to be disposed of properly.
Afterward, the EPA said there were chemicals in the house that would have been problematic had the city followed through with Greenberg’s original plan.
Mistake No. 6: Appointing donors to boards and commissions
Every mayor and every governor have done it. Reward donors by appointing them to boards and commissions.
But it blew up on Greenberg when he appointed developer Mark Blieden to the airport authority board. Bleiden may be well-suited for the board – or as well-suited as anybody on it – but we couldn’t tell because his application was only two sentences long.
Blieden and his family gave $13,000 to Greenberg’s campaign. (Perhaps he doesn’t have a daughter who needed an internship for her resume.)
After filing an updated resume, the council approved Blieden's appointment.
Still, this appointment infuriated the Metro Council so much that it nixed Greenberg’s appointment of Republican Crawford Wells to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority.
The council booted Wells because all three of Greenberg’s appointees to the housing authority were from one council district – the East End’s wealthy District 16. What was he thinking?
Mistake No. 7: Keeping the police contract negotiations and chief hiring process secret
Again, here’s that secrecy thing.
Greenberg campaigned on transparency and then, following the cataclysmic events of 2020, the shooting of Breonna Taylor and the protests that wracked the city, Greenberg took his dealings with the embattled police department behind closed doors.
First it was negotiating the contract with the Fraternal Order of Police. Then it was the process he went through in hiring Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel as the new police chief.
That ain’t very transparent.
Joseph Gerth can be reached at 502-582-4702 or by email at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg's biggest mistakes in his first year