A proposed city budget submitted to members of the city council for review is a public document, according to the Kentucky attorney general. Members of the public and the media are entitled to review the document under the Kentucky Open Records Act before it is voted on by the city council. The ruling handed down May 20 reverses rulings of the office from 1996 and 2000.
The dispute began when Heather Rous, a University of Kentucky journalism student who has since graduated, and UK journalism professor Al Cross submitted on April 13 a request to the mayor of Midway for a copy of his proposed budget, which he had submitted to members of the Finance and City Property Committee of the Midway City Council. Students in Cross' advanced reporting class cover the Midway City Council and post stories on the Midway Messenger blog at http://midwayky.blogspot.com/.
Mayor Tom Bozarth declined the request, saying the budget was a preliminary document and therefore exempt from public disclosure. Kentucky Citizens for Open Government appealed the denial, and the attorney general's office ruled a proposed budget is not a preliminary document.
"The proposed budget must be made accessible to the public when it is submitted to the City Council pursuant to KRS 91A.030(7) because it constitutes statutorily required final action of a public agency, in this case, the Mayor of the City of Midway. At this juncture, the budget forfeits the preliminary character it enjoyed while it was in preparation and is no longer a draft. The 'need for governmental confidentiality' accorded the proposed budget prior to submission to the Council must yield to the public’s right to know," the attorney general ruled.
The city has 30 days to file an appeal in Woodford Circuit Court. UPDATE, June 10: Bozarth told the Midway Messenger that the city will not appeal. That clears the way for the decision to be used in similar situations involving other Kentucky cities.
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