Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lincoln County Ambulance Board failed to respond to complaint in timely manner

There is a response period public agencies must meet when they receive an Open Meetings complaint.

On Oct. 11, 2016, Attorney General Andy Beshear issued an opinion in In re: Abigail Whitehouse/Lincoln County Ambulance Board, 16-OMD-222.

Whitehouse, an editor with The Interior Journal, requested emails from the Lincoln County Ambulance Board about the member’s discussions on certain issues. After receiving the records, she sent a letter dated Sept. 1, 2016, to the chairman, Jerry Shelton.

In the letter of appeal, Whitehouse explained why the board is subject to the Open Meeting Act and other facts and statutes on why the board failed to comply with the act. She also included proposed remedies.

While the appeal was sent to the board, a written response was never received by Beshear’s office, but a call with Shelton did confirm the board was composed of seven members and four represented a quorum.

Whitehouse cited some of the emails she received in her initial Open Records request that seemingly show, according to her, that there was a discussion of public business in a non-public forum.

However, Beshear stated that there was insufficient evidence in the records to see if a quorum of the board responded to the issues posed in the emails.

Moving to in-person meetings, an email showed that a board member suggested a meeting in another member’s office.

Beshear stated that if a quorum did meet in the office, it would have been a violation of the Open Meetings Act as a special meeting under KRS 61.823. A public meeting involves any meeting when public business is discussed, regardless of where the discussion takes place.

The attorney general's office, however, found evidence in the record lacked certainty that a quorum ever met in the office, so the office could not conclude that a violation had occurred.

Another issue was telephonic meetings, that it would have been a violation if members discussed public business during a group telephone call. The opinion said there was insufficient evidence to conclude that a quorum was involved.

The attorney general's office did, however, find that the board failed to respond in three days after receiving Whitehouse’s complaint.

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