Thursday, September 15, 2011

AG again says Health and Family Services Cabinet violated Open Records Act

The attorney general's office has again cited the Cabinet for Health and Family and Services for failing to following the dictates of the Kentucky Open Records Act. This is the second time this year the attorney general's office has ruled that the cabinet violated the law in response to a request from Elizabeth Coleman, a cabinet employee.

In the Sept. 6 opinion, which has the force of law unless overruled by a state circuit court judge, Attorney General Jack Conway held the cabinet "committed both procedural and substantive violations" by failing to provide an employee with timely access to the records she requested.

Coleman filed a grievance with the cabinet June 10. On July 15, she filed a request under the provisions of the Open Records Act for records related to the grievance. On July 19, the cabinet replied it could not meet the three-day deadline required under the law but expected to fulfill her request by July 27. According to the attorney general's opinion, when Coleman heard no more from the cabinet by Aug. 3, she appealed to the attorney general, an option available to anyone who is denied records.

The cabinet told the attorney general's office it had replied on July 21. Coleman denies receiving a response before she filed the appeal on Aug. 3. In either case, the opinion said the cabinet failed to provide Coleman all the records she was entitled to review. The document she received was a single record indicating the disposition of her complaint, lacking any of the notes or interviews of those involved in reviewing her grievance.

In an opinion issued in April in an almost identical appeal, the attorney general's office ruled "The information to which she requested access is contained in the records reviewed and/or generated in the course of the investigation that resulted from the grievance she filed. She is entitled to inspect and copy “any record,” including investigator’s notes, that relate to the investigation. The cabinet’s refusal to allow her access to these records constituted a violation of the Open Records Act."

The cabinet can appeal the ruling to Franklin Circuit Court within 30 days to keep it from becoming final.

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