Friday, March 9, 2012

Bill would shield some holders of competitively procured contracts from open-records requests

A state House committee voted yesterday "to change the Kentucky Open Records Act to make private the records of some organizations doing business with government," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Presently, any organization that gets at least 25 percent of its revenue from local or state government must share some records under the act, which is meant to bring transparency to public spending." House Bill 496 would exclude from the calculation money from contracts "obtained through a competitive public procurement process."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, said it was prompted by letters that Glasgow lawyer John Rogers has been sending highway contractors, who depend largely on state government. Rogers didn't return Cheves's call for comment, but "One of the companies that Rogers has asked for records, Hinkle Contracting Co. of Paris, has alleged in a letter to Attorney General Jack Conway that Rogers is working on behalf of a company called Utility Management Group," which runs Pike County's water and sewer systems. "Conway's office ruled in September that UMG is a public entity under the Open Records Act and must disclose spending information. UMG is appealing in Pike Circuit Court."

Buckner Hinkle Jr. of Hinkle Contracting told Cheves that Rogers is trying to "goad other contractors to support UMG" in the lawsuit. "Bell said he is not involved with UMG, and his bill is not intended to protect UMG from public disclosure," Cheves reports.

Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson said KPA does not oppose the bill because Bell changed it to say that the 25 percent rules applies to any fiscal year, not "the current fiscal year." Current law leaves that point unclear.

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