From Trump to trees, Brandon Coan had a busy year in office

Metro Councilman Brandon Coan is finishing his first year in office (photo by Lee Chottiner).

As Brandon Coan’s first year on the Louisville Metro Council comes to an end, he finds one of his chief legislative achievements in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
The Metro District 8 Democrat, the only Jewish member of council, was a primary sponsor of an ordinance passed in October – what Coan generically calls a “separation ordinance” – prohibiting Louisville Metro Police and other city officials from assisting federal authorities in enforcing U.S. civil immigration laws.
The Justice Department, in a letter to the city, questioned the legality of that ordinance, saying it could violate a federal law prohibiting city officials from preventing the sharing of information with the Feds about undocumented immigrants.
In other words, the Justice Department came close to labeling Louisville a sanctuary city. The Trump administration has threatened to punish sanctuary cities by withholding federal assistance, as much as $500,000 in Louisville’s case.
But Coan, along with the county attorney, have defended the ordinance, saying it doesn’t prohibit and does not breach federal law because the city doesn’t collect information about immigrant status anyway.
“We don’t ask people what their immigration status is unless, in very few instances, where federal law requires it,” Coan said in an exclusive interview with Community.
“It doesn’t matter to us what someone’s immigration status is because we don’t discriminate based on immigration status.”
He said Louisville is more a city of “refuge” than a “sanctuary city” avoiding language that could send up red flags in Washington.
“People have been coming here from around the world for a long time,” he said.
The dust-up wasn’t the only controversy the freshman councilman found himself in during 2017.
During a June 2 rally at the base of the Big Four Bridge on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, Coan “pleaded” with the Kentucky General Assembly to reconsider its “strict prohibition on local firearms control,” calling gun violence “a uniquely urban problem in our rural state.”
And he joined the struggle to enact a comprehensive tree ordinance in the city, proposed an amendment to require Louisville or its contractors to replace any trees they remove.
He said he’s not satisfied with the bill, which addresses trees only public rights-of-way and not private property, but he set his own goal to plant 1,460 trees in his district and the same number elsewhere in the city before his term is up. (On the day he met with Community, he said volunteers were planting 116 trees along the Bardstown-Baxter corridor.)
In reflecting on his first year in office, Coan clearly touched on issues that resonate with Jewish voters. Refuge has been historically sought by Jews fleeing oppression; gun control divides Jews as it does the country, and planting trees is part and parcel to the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (mend the world).
But the first-term councilman preferred to talk about the infrastructure he is building to serve his constituents.
“I’m literally trying to be build an organizational culture,” he said. “We have created a few neighborhood organizations that didn’t have any.”
He also is using the Internet, starting an electronic newsletter, which includes updates on issues in his direct and reprints from community newsletters, that has gone from zero to 3,500 subscribers (his goal is 8,000).
He also is doing podcasts at his web page at gov.
“It’s a community place where everyone can plug in,” Coan said.
Coan has created a strategic plan at his web site that lays out his goals and objectives for his term, including upgrading roads and sidewalks, and some that have already been achieved, such as $5,000 loans for District 8 businesses to improve their accessibility.
A lifelong Louisvillian, Coan grew up a member of the Temple (he played on the alumni team during the recent Drew Corson Memorial Basketball Tournament).
A lawyer by training, the Tyler Park resident previously served as an advisor to Mayor Greg Fischer from 2011 to 2012.
While he doesn’t believe any issues he deals with are uniquely Jewish, one that Coan continues to watch, and which has special interest to the community, is the mayor’s assessment of city monuments review of all city public art, including statues, for the purpose of identifying any that could promote bigotry, racism or slavery.
That assessment was a response to what happened earlier this year in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists used a city decision there to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee, to hold torch lights demonstrations reminiscent of the Nazis in the 1930s and marched by the only synagogue in town in an overt threat to its worshippers.
Coan, who watched the demonstrations on TV, was disturbed by them, but he contended that monuments in Louisville must still be revisited to see how today’s residents see them.
“It’s what they mean today, what they’re being used for today,” he said. “That’s of concern to me and that’s of concern to the Jewish people.”

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