Thursday, March 25, 2010

Applications for business licenses ruled public

The state Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kenton County Fiscal Court violated the Open Records Act when it denied a records request from The Kentucky Enquirer.

In a March 12 decision, the court said the fiscal court interpreted a section of the law too broadly when it denied the newspaper access to an occupational-license application for a restaurant in Crescent Springs. In Kenton County Fiscal Court v. Kentucky Enquirer, 2010 WL 890012 (Ky.App.), the court adopted the reasoning in a line of opinions of the state attorney general's office recognizing that "it is in the public interest to know what businesses and professions have been licensed to exist and operate within the boundaries of the governmental unit."

The court concluded that "it is incumbent on Kenton County to disclose any and all information appearing upon the application as it relates to what professions or businesses are licensed to operate and which does not reveal the affairs of any person or affairs of the business, and to redact the information which does."

Enquirer reporter Jim Hannah asked Oct. 17, 2007, for a copy of the application of Empire Buffet, and the county denied it. The attorney feneral ruled that December that the county's position "reflects a fundamental misconception that records are presumed to be closed unless expressly declared by the legislature or the courts to be open, indeed, that the public has the burden of proving that a record is open," and that the fiscal court was interpreting the law too broadly so "as to authorize blanket nondisclosure of applications for business licenses." That ruling was upheld in Kenton Circuit Court and now by the Court of Appeals.

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