Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kentucky State University joint regent committees failed to follow provisions of Open Meetings Act

The attorney general's office has upheld an appeal by The State Journal of Frankfort and reporter Katheran Wasson that committees of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents violated the state Open Meetings Act earlier this year.

The Finance and Administration Committee and the Audit Committee jointly held a closed session meeting on Jan. 27 to discuss an external audit. Before entering the closed session, the committee failed to pass a formal motion to go into closed session and cite the reason for the session, as required by the act.

Wasson submitted a written complaint describing the violations to the presiding officer of the meeting, Charles Whitehead. In her complaint, she requested that the full board acknowledge, in writing, that the closed committee session violated the law. She also requested that “members of the Finance and Administration and Audit Committees make public any notes, minutes or recordings taken during the closed session," and if no such records were created, Whitehead" make a public, written statement of what transpired during the closed session and what was discussed in detail." Finally, Wasson asked that the board "vow, in writing, to never meet in closed session again without citing a specific statute and taking a formal vote" and that a written statement to this effect "be shared with all members, in case they ever find themselves serving as chairperson of a committee or presiding over a meeting."

Under state law, [KRS 61.815(1)(b)] the following are required as conditions for conducting closed sessions: Notice must be given in an open meeting of the general nature of the business to be discussed in closed session, the reason for the closed session, and the specific exception authorizing the closed session; closed sessions may be held only after a motion is made and carried by a majority vote in open, public session; no final action may be taken at a closed session; and no matters may be discussed at a closed session other than those publicly announced prior to convening the closed session.

According to Wasson's transcript of her recording of the meeting, Whitehead said, "I’d like to take this committee into closed session so that, so that, so that – I usually do this, just to hear from the auditors, just so that they can say anything that they might want to say. Can we do that?" Wasson said one committee member then looked at Lori Davis, the university’s general counsel, who approved.

Regents Chairwoman Laura Douglas denied the meeting was illegal and rejected Wasson's remedial steps, saying the committee closed the meeting under an exception that allows closed discussion of on threats to public safety. Attorney General Jack Conway ruled that the exception was clearly inapplicable and the meeting was illegal.

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