Friday, June 26, 2009

League of Cities stops releasing its records, saying it isn't a public agency

When the Lexington Herald-Leader asked the Kentucky League of Cities for a lot of records a few months ago, the league complied. Now the organization, which has expanded its business activities beyond lobbying, says it will no longer voluntarily release records.

The league "is not a public agency and not subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act," Temple Juett, the League's attorney, said in a letter to the Herald-Leader yesterday. The newspaper reported, "In all the past responses to the Herald-Leader's open records requests, Juett had stated that the league's status as a public agency had never been determined, but that the league would comply voluntarily. Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the paper will pursue the records issue through the appropriate channels."

Typically, that means an appeal to the attorney general, whose decisions in open-records and open-meetings matters have the force of law, followed by a lawsuit from the side that loses at the attorney general's office. In 1993, the office "found that the Kentucky Association of Counties, similar in its structure and services to the league, was a public agency because it received at least 25 percent of its revenues from public sources," the Herald-Leader reports. "The league receives its revenues from city membership dues, insurance premiums and loan payments. But it is unclear whether the 1993 ruling ... applies to the league."

The league wants a legal determination of its status, said Richmond Mayor Connie Lawson, who chairs the group's executive board. Another board member, Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, said he did "not understand the league's rationale for changing its position concerning open records." The board opened its June 19 meeting at the request of the Herald-Leader.

On June 17, after the newspaper published stories about the salaries and expenses of top league executives, it asked the group for records of the group's payments to law firms. That prompted this week's letter. The league had denied an earlier request, for records of payments to the firm where Executive Director Sylvia Lovely's husband, Bernard Lovely, is a partner. (Read more)

UPDATE: Sylvia Lovely has resigned as executive director of the league.

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