Friday, August 28, 2009

Herald-Leader calls on Minton and Supreme Court to deliver on promises of openness

Despite pledges from Kentucky’s chief justice to shed more light on the process of building judicial facilities, the Lexington Herald-Leader says it’s “past time” for John Minton's promises to become reality.

“It's been almost a year since the Herald-Leader began chronicling the astounding building campaign of the Administrative Office of the Courts,” the newspaper said in an editorial over the weekend. “Cloaked in secrecy, riven with conflicts of interest, devoid of competitive bidding, the program has blasted through dozens of historic downtowns and almost a billion taxpayer dollars and is still going.”

The paper notes that Minton inherited the system from retired Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, and "has taken positive steps to protect both the integrity of the state's court system and tax dollars. ... But some of the changes Minton announced last October to ‘shore up public confidence’ have not yet materialized. It's past time for them to become reality.” Minton told the KOG Blog earlier this year that opening up the court construction program was one of his goals in a general review he has ordered of the degree of transparency in the Kentucky court system. He declined to comment on the Herald-Leader’s editorial.

“The most critical [change needed] is opening up AOC's work to public view, and scrutiny,” the paper wrote. “The records of the court system and the AOC have been closed since 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled that they weren't subject to the state open records law. This is a puzzlement. Our system depends upon the integrity of the courts. And nothing encourages integrity like open records.”

The paper said the lack of transparency leads to a “queasiness,” explaining: “First, we're talking about our courts. If they aren't honest and open, is there any hope for clean government in the two other branches? Second, there is a ton of money on the table here. Human nature and Kentucky's long, corrupt history tell us that public money combined with secret dealings is a combustible mixture that yields no good. ... The Supreme Court can undo what it did in 1978. Open the books. Open the process. Restore confidence.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Attend Sunshine Seminar in Morehead Sept.18

The Sunshine Seminar, a refresher course on Kentucky open-records and open-meetings laws, is being offered at Morehead on Friday, Sept. 18 for journalists but is open to anyone interested in freedom-of-information issues.

The course is jointly sponsored and run by the Kentucky Press Association, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center (both part of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications). It will cover such issues as how to use the laws, how to appeal to the attorney general, how to deal with judges and other court officials who try to close court proceedings, and using federal and state campaign-finance records to do election stories. Journalists will share success stories and discuss their experiences on the open-government front.

The seminar will be held at the downtown Morehead Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the $20 fee will include lunch.

Here’s the detailed schedule:

9:00 The importance of open records, open meetings and open courts and journalists’ role: Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

9:15 History of state FOI laws; how to file open-records requests and appeals; how to keep meetings and courts open: Ashley Pack, Dinsmore & Shohl law firm, KPA attorney-lobbyist

10:30 Dealing with the Office of the Attorney General: Amye Bensenhaver, assistant attorney general and veteran decision writer

12:00 Lunch

12:45 Success stories: How we used freedom-of-information laws and reporting techniques to keep local government open to the sunshine: Carrie Stambaugh, The Independent, Ashland, and others

2:15 Using campaign-finance records in coverage of elections: Tom Loftus, Frankfort Bureau chief, The Courier-Journal

3:30 Records you can and should publish in your newspaper: Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

This seminar will help you do a better job of keeping government open and accountable. Please register today:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Attorney general issues open records decisions

The following Open Records Decisions have been issued by the Office of the Attorney General:

09-ORD-120 (McCracken County): Reidland-Farley Fire Department did not violate open records law when it notified requester that it did not maintain records responsive to his request and advised him where those records were located. Questions relating to the truthfulness of this statement cannot be resolved in this appeal, nor can questions relating to unperfected appeal and questions that are hypothetical in nature.
09-ORD-121 (Jefferson County): Decision adopting 00-ORD-116; grand jury records are permanently excluded from application of the Open Records Act by operation of KRS 61.878(1)(h).
09-ORD-122 (Jefferson County): Decision adopting 98-ORD-6 and 04-ORD-021; records in the custody of circuit and district court clerks are properly characterized as court records, to which the Open Records Act does not apply, rather than public records within the meaning of KRS 61.870(2). In accordance with Ex Parte Farley, Ky., 570 S.W.2d 617 (1978), KRS 26A.200 and KRS 26A.220, the authorities upon which 98-ORD-6 and 04-ORD-021 are premised, this office finds that the Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk is not bound by, and therefore cannot be said to have violated the Open Records Act in failing to respond in writing upon receipt of the request(s) at issue as KRS 61.880(1) otherwise requires or in declining to "notify and/or respond for" specified judges and court officers.
09-ORD-123 (Henderson County): Decision adopting 03-ORD-074 and holding that Henderson County Detention Center properly relied on KRS 197.025(2) in denying inmate request for records that did not contain a specific reference to him.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AP Managing Editors give Kentucky's big papers 1st Amendment, public-service awards

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader are among recipients of awards announce yesterday by the Associated Press Managing Editors. The Herald-Leader won a Public Service Award for its recent series of reports on appointed government boards and local-government lobbying and service groups, while the Louisville paper won a First Amendment Award for its successful seven-year fight to reveal donors to the University of Louisville Foundation.

"The legal battle between the newspaper and the university began in 2001 after the paper requested the names of people who donated to the university's McConnell Center, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., helped found," Emilu Udell writes for The C-J. "The foundation argued that it was not a public agency and so was not subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act." (Read more)

"The Herald-Leader won the Public Service Award given to newspapers with a circulation of 40,000 to 150,000," the paper and AP report. The paper's "It's Your Money" series "has examined spending at Blue Grass Airport, the Lexington Public Library, Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties. The stories revealed that the groups had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable travel, meals and other expenses. After the initial airport stories appeared, the director of the airport resigned, as did several top members of his staff." (Read more)

For the full list of winners, from APME, click here.