Councilwoman Barbra Shanklin's program documents raise questions


by Adam Walser

Posted on July 11, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 13 at 11:21 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Thousands of documents obtained by the I-Team contain plenty of questions about how hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants were spent.

Much of the paperwork points back to embattled Metro Council Member Barbara Shanklin.

Abandoned houses, overgrown yards and a skyrocketing crime rate... those are among the factors that led Louisville's Newburg Community to apply for and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's Weed and Seed program.

The weed portion was aimed at getting police to step up patrols in the neighborhood and move the bad guys out.

“The seed part is supposed to be the resident involvement itself,” Chandra Berry, who works for a non-profit organization serving the community, said. “It’s to make them more empowered, so they can take over and continue to work hard in their community.”

The person charged with making that happen was Newburg Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin.

Thousands of documents WHAS11 requested under the Kentucky Open Records Law show that Shanklin played an integral role in determining how and where the money was spent.

An audit performed at the request of the Public Integrity Unit shows some of the spending and accounting was questionable.

According to documents, Weed and Seed entered into two contracts for mowing three yards, twice a month at a cost of $130 per mowing.

We also found documentation that the grant was used to buy a $9,800 color copying machine and paid thousands of dollars a year to maintain it.

Shanklin says the copier was used to put out flyers and newsletters.

“It certainly wasn't to put out letters in the community,” lifelong Newburg community resident Rosemary Robinson, who once ran against Shanklin for Metro Council, said. “We didn't get any.”

Robinson said Weed and Seed meant, “Nothing to the residents. Only those who are her friends or her cronies or her family. “ Robinson admits, however, that her son-in-law received lawn mowing work under the program.

Documents show Shanklin failed to disclose she was a member of the Board of Directors for the Peace Center, based at Peace Presbyterian Church.

Documents indicate Shanklin steered thousands of dollars in grants to the program while she was a director.

She told WHAS11 in a statement that the failure to disclose her involvement on the board was, “An oversight on my part, and I take full responsibility for that.”

The audit also indicates a lack of financial oversight and documentation involving many of the Weed and Seed grant recipients.

“Somewhere down the line, accountability has to be tightened up, because we want our taxpayer money to go where it needs to go,” Berry said.

The I-Team has learned the issues became such a big concern that acting U.S. Attorney Candace Hill recommended in 2010 that the U.S. Justice Department stop funding the program, which it did in its fifth year.

WHAS11 asked Shanklin for an interview through a staff member, which she refused.

When WHAS11 tried to talk to her at her home, she waved WHAS11 away, but she eventually sent a statement saying, “The program benefited the community of Newburg and laid the foundation for what we see today; a decrease in crime by 11 percent, a sense of pride in the community and the revitalization of our proud community. It is easy to criticize in hindsight, but I think this program did what it was intended to do.”