Friday, October 19, 2012

AG: Cabinet hid too much information from Inez newspaper about case of 2-year-old who died

Attorney General Jack Conway has ruled that the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services violated the Open Records Act by withholding information about the death of a 2-year-old Prestonsburg boy whose aunt and uncle have been charged with killing him.

The Mountain Citizen, a weekly newspaper in Inez, asked for all information the cabinet had on Watson Adkins, whom the state had removed from his mother's home and placed in the custody of his maternal aunt, Gladys Dickerson of Prestonsburg. The boy was found unresponsive there in September 2011.

The cabinet "initially did not provide two previous unsubstantiated reports of abuse against Gladys and Jason Dickerson to the newspaper but later supplied the reports with much of the information redacted," reports Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The opinion said the cabinet could not redact some of that information, including the names of perpetrators involved in the unsubstantiated reports."

Conway said the cabinet also violated the records law "by failing to cite either state or federal law that allowed it to withhold or redact certain information," Musgrave writes, noting that the case is the latest "in a more that three-year legal battle between the media and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services over what can be released after a child is killed from abuse and neglect. . . . What information can be redacted or blacked out of those files is currently on appeal."

The cabinet has 30 days from Monday, the date of the open-records decision, to appeal it to circuit court.

Citizen Editor Gary Ball told Musgrave that he sought the information after hearing that the cabinet had been told the Dickersons were mistreating the boy and his four siblings. “I got heavily redacted information,” he said. “I wanted all records from the time that they were removed from the home to the time of the criminal charges.” He said the mother had taken photos of suspicious injuries to the children.

"Ball said that the cabinet had investigated two reports of alleged abuse against Gladys and Jason Dickerson before September 2011," Musgrave writes. "Ball received the reports from the cabinet but it’s difficult to tell why those reports were not substantiated." He told Musgrave, “I want the records that will show me how they made that determination that those reports were unsubstantiated.” (Read more)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

AG says Danville solons broke open-meeting law by deciding secretly to buy a building

UPDATE, Oct. 23: The city has appealed the decision to Boyle Circuit Court, The Advocate-Messenger reports.

The City of Danville violated the state Open Meetings Act by taking action in closed session to buy a building and failing to respond to a complaint about it from the local newspaper, Attorney General Jack Conway has ruled in a decision both sides received yesterday.

"The disputed action in an executive session took place July 23 during a City Commission meeting. There was no public vote regarding purchasing the building during open session that day," reports Stephanie Mojica of The Advocate-Messenger. "It wasn’t until Aug. 13 that commissioners publicly approved the purchase . . . a decision that has stirred some controversy, partially because Commissioner Ryan Montgomery’s father, Mike Montgomery, conducts business with the property’s now-former owner,  Mitchell Barnes of Lexington. On Aug. 13, commissioners said they had reached a 'consensus' during the July 23 executive session that allowed City Manager Ron Scott to move forward with plans to hire a bidder and secure the property through auction. However, a consensus is still a vote, according to the attorney general’s decision."

The commission had told the attorney general's office, "The Commissioners collectively stated to the City Manager that they could potentially approve of a purchase of the . . . building if the sale price was less than the appraised value" and that all of them supported the City Manager hiring "a professional bidder as its agent … so as not to showcase that it was the City bidding." The commission argued that it acted as the Florence City Council did when it agreed in closed session to settle a lawsuit, then approved the settlement at a later, open meeting. Conway's office said that didn't apply "because the appeal before us does not involve a settlement conference in litigation," and noted that "a commitment or promise to make a positive or negative decision" constitutes "taking action" under the open-meetings law. It also faulted the city for not responding to a follow-up complaint the Advocate-Messenger filed Sept. 14. For the decision, click here. For the story, go here.

Mount Olivet violated both open-meetings and open-records laws, attorney general rules

By Taylor Moak

The Mount Olivet City Council violated the Kentucky open meetings and open records acts in its actions surrounding special meetings and a request for documents, the attorney general’s office ruled in August.

The first attorney general’s decision about the council, which was released Aug. 24, said the council violated the Open Meetings Act for not complying with notice requirements before holding a special meeting on July 16.

The council also committed a violation for failing to issue until Aug. 8 a written response to two complaints made July 26, and it committed a violation if public business was discussed in an “admitted meeting of a quorum of members without proper notice,” according to the decision.

The second decision, released Aug. 30, said the council violated the Open Records Act when it did not respond in a timely manner to an open records request.

Tony Beach, a resident of Robertson County, where Mount Olivet is the county seat, filed the appeals with the attorney general’s office.

Beach said he had been attending the city council meetings to hear discussion of plans to annex a new school that is a few miles outside of the city limits. The proposed annexation would also include his home.

“I started going to the meetings because I don’t want to be within the city limits,” Beach said.

He said over the years, the city has not been run in an organized fashion.

Over the summer, he went to attend a meeting of the city council where plans to replace a vacant city council seat would be discussed.

But he said the special meeting wasn’t advertised, and he was told that it wasn’t a special meeting. He said he was allowed to stay at the meeting, but he filed a complaint after that meeting because the people of the city did not have an opportunity to attend the meeting.

When he asked for the minutes of the meeting, the council couldn’t produce them, Beach said.

In his July 26 request to the council, Beach asked for eight items, including the minutes from the July 16 and July 23 special meetings, and all emails, correspondence, minutes or notes from meetings pertaining to current or future annexation plans. Beach also requested the names of any news media that have requested to be notified of the council’s special meetings.

Beach said in an appeal letter that he filed with the Attorney General’s Office that he never received a written response to his request, but when he attended a council meeting on August 6, he was handed two of the eight items he requested without explanation.

W. Kelly Caudill, an attorney from Maysville, represents the city council. In his Aug. 13 response to the attorney general, Caudill said of the July 23 meeting that “some council members met for the purpose of introducing themselves to a prospective new council member who was interested in filling a vacancy on the council. That council and the mayor did not conduct any city business.”

Caudill said he advised the mayor and the council “that any time there is a quorum that they must comply with the Open Meetings Act and treat same as a special meeting providing at least 24 hours notice.”

In his response to Beach’s request, Caudill said the city council “must respectfully deny same as they are in the excess of what the statute requires.”

A worker at Caudill’s law firm said she spoke with Caudill and “he indicated that he has no comment.”

Beach said the attorney general’s decisions puts the city council “on notice that someone is watching” and his primary focus remains not being annexed into Mount Olivet.

“My biggest concern is being annexed into a city that doesn’t know how to be ran correctly,” Beach said.