Thursday, September 10, 2009

AG: Public agencies' settlements are public

Public agencies cannot keep settlement agreements in court cases confidential, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway reminded officials in an opinion issued Sept. 1.

The opinion, which is legally binding unless appealed to circuit court, found the Regional Water Resource Agency in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The case involved a settlement with Ed Shelton of a lawsuit he filed after his sewer line collapsed. Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reporter James Mayse had requested a copy of the agreement, but was denied by the agency, which cited a confidentiality clause in the settlement.

The attorney general's office cited a 1997 decision of the state Supreme Court and earlier attorney-general decisions in ruling that such a clause "does not create an inherent right to privacy superior to the significant public interest in disclosure of such a record."

The office also ruled against the Powell County School District, saying its refusal to supply records on a school activity fund was "procedurally deficient" and "substantively incorrect." The opinion said the district did not give reasons for failing to reply within the three days required by law to a request by Karen Rose, and that the district's claim that the records were "general correspondence" which could be destroyed in two years was wrong.

The decision said the records had to be kept for three years and an audit performed before they could be destroyed. However, it said the attorney general's office "cannot afford Ms. Rose the relief she seeks" because the records no longer exist. He did urge the school district to review open records authorities on "proper records management."

For a full text of the decisions, see Links of Interest at the bottom of the KOG Blog.

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