Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AG says U of L physician groups tied to Passport must release salaries, other financial data

Two groups representing the University of Louisville's faculty physicians have been deemed public agencies and are subject to the state open-records law, Attorney General Jack Conway has ruled. He said the groups violated the Open Records Act when they denied a request by The Courier-Journal's Tom Loftus for five years' worth of records showing employee salaries, sources of income and expenses. U of L doctors have a majority on the board of Passport Health Plan, which manages the Medicaid program for Jefferson and 15 surrounding counties.

The matter concerns the University Physicians Association and the University of Louisville Physicians. In December, Loftus requested the salary and expense documents after state Sen. Tim Shaughnessy of Louisville, right, asked the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to "examine the flow of Medicaid funds from the state through Passport to UPA," Loftus writes. State Auditor Crit Luallen did not look into the issue in her November report, which pointedly criticized Passport for excessive spending and conflicts of interest.
Though the physician groups contended they were non-profit corporations, Conway said UPA is a public agency "because it was established and created, and is controlled, by the University of Louisville School of Medicine," Conway concludes. "In all material respects, ULP mirrors UPA in the manner of its establishment, creation and control ... We are not prepared to casually dismiss these facts as 'coincidence born of practicality,' and instead find that ULP and the School of Medicine 'act as one and the same.'"
In its articles of incorporation, UPA says its mission is "to further the research mission and teaching of the praction of medicine at the University." Moreover, UPA and ULP were established and continue to be run by U of L medical school administrators, department chairs and professors. "We agree with The Courier-Journal that the suggestion that these physician administrators and/or professors, each the chair or interim chair of their respective medical school departments, came together of their own accord, and as private actors to establish and create UPA defies logic."
Shaughnessy was impressed with the findings. "It causes me to ask: How could they think they are not a public entity? What remains to be seen is whether the university accepts this ruling or continues its arguments that it is not subject to public openness." (Read more)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Budget deal hits federal transparency websites

"Government transparency websites likely will be scaled back or even eliminated as a result of a 75 percent budget cut that congressional leaders and the White House agreed to last week," William Matthews of GovExec.com writes for National Journal.

The $34 million Electronic Government Fund, being cut to $8 million, "supports websites such as http://www.usaspending.gov/ and the IT Dashboard, which provide public access to vast amounts of information on how the government spends money," Matthews writes. "Another transparency site, http://www.data.gov/, also is endangered, transparency advocates said. The site offers access to 380,000 government agency data sets as diverse as climate change statistics and export licensing records." (Read more)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Danville city commissioners walk out during closed session, refuse to comment

Two Danville city commissioners walked out of a closed-door meeting last night, leaving the other two and the mayor to discuss a personnel matter that the absentees either didn't want discussed or thought should be discussed in public.

Kevin Caudill and J.H. Atkins, who voted against holding the closed session, left it after 45 minutes and "refused comment on either the purpose of the meeting or their reasons for leaving," David Brock reports for The Advocate-Messenger. "When the remaining commission members returned from executive session about 20 minutes later, no action was taken."

The Advocate-Messenger quoted from the personnel exception to the state Open Records Act: “Discussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline or dismissal of an individual employee, member or student without restricting that employee’s, member’s or student’s right to a public hearing if requested. This exception shall not be interpreted to permit discussion of general personnel matters in secret.” Then the paper added in conclusion: "The lengthy closed-door session was not the first in which one of the stated subjects was possible firing and no action was subsequently taken." To read the full story, click here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

National open-government blog is started

Charles Davis, associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, has started a blog about freedom of information and open government, and is updating it several times a day. Davis is a former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The blog is The Art of Access.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Passport Health Plan drops secrecy; governor calls on corrections non-profit to do likewise

Passport Health Plan, the managed-care organization for Medicaid in the Louisville area, announced today that it would no longer fight to keep its records secret, deciding not to appeal a ruling by Attorney General Jack Conway that it had to give records to The Courier-Journal because most of its money comes from the state.

"The announcement came the same day Gov. Steve Beshear said he wants Dismas Charities Inc., a halfway-house company that stymied a state audit by refusing to fully release its financial information, to open its records as well," reports Deborah Yetter of the Louisville newspaper, which "has published stories detailing questionable spending by both Passport and Dismas, and legislators and state officials have demanded greater accountability from both." Louisville-based Dismas says it gets 22 percent of its funds from the state, 3 points short of the threshold for being subject to the open-records law.

Passport's interim CEO, Mark Carter, said in an article on the paper's op-ed page that the decision "was not based upon legal advice but was made as part of the continuing evolution, perhaps even transformation, of the plan." He said state Auditor Crit Luallen's scathing report on the plan "has served as a very beneficial wake-up call to our organization."

Luallen "was rebuffed in her attempt to audit Dismas," and yesterday "said outside companies that do state business must be held accountable for their use of tax dollars," Yetter writes. Today the state issued a request for proposals to expand Medicaid managed care to other parts of the state. Luallen told Yetter, “I think if government is going to privatize services … we have to have a higher level of accountability, not a lower level of accountability.” (Read more)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

AG tells Kentucky Retirement Systems to reveal its salaries, which even its board doesn't know

Attorney General Jack Conway told Kentucky Retirement Systems administrators yesterday that it must reveal how much employees are paid. They had refused a Feb. 10 request by Eva Smith-Carroll of Frankfort for "current payroll records."

“All the other state employee salaries are posted online. It wasn’t clear to me why this one agency should not have to disclose the size of its salaries,” Smith-Carroll told John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader, who writes: “Robert Wilcher, a member of the KRS board of trustees, said he and his colleagues hadn’t heard about the case until after KRS management denied Smith-Carroll’s request. KRS executives have not disclosed their pay to the board, either, Wilcher said.”

Because it deals with open records, Conway's opinion has the force of law, but the retirement systems can appeal it to Franklin Circuit Court within 30 days. "KRS general counsel Schuyler Olt declined to comment Tuesday," Cheves writes. UPDATE, April 22: The salaries have been posted online, Cheves reports: "The new board chairwoman, Jennifer Elliott, on Friday said the board insisted that KRS salaries be posted online as quickly as possible." Elliott told Cheves, “We had not previously been aware that the system failed to turn over this information when requested. The board as a whole wants us to be transparent.”
UPDATE, April 7: One salary just became moot. In an apparently unrelated move, the KRS board fired its executive director and elected a new chairman, reports Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal reports.