Showing posts with label accountability and review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label accountability and review. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kentucky ranked most transparent state for online government spending records

A new report, rating each state's use of online databases to give the public information about government spending, lists Kentucky as the only state getting an "A" grade. The report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a long-established government watchdog, "evaluates states’ progress toward 'Transparency 2.0' – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility," it says in a news release. The report reveals at least 32 states "currently mandate that residents be able to access an online database of government expenditures with 'checkbook-level' detail."

Kentucky led all states with a grade of 97 percent. The next closest was Ohio at 84. Kentucky's Web site only lost points for not linking funding related to the federal stimulus act and for not including financial information for local and county budgets. "Openness in government has been a top priority of this administration, and it is gratifying that our extensive efforts have not only received notice, but have been ranked the best in the nation," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement. "As we face an unprecedented $1.5 billion shortfall over the next biennium, it is more important than ever for government to be transparent and accountable, and for citizens to feel confident that their tax dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly. I’m proud of the efforts we have made, along with the bipartisan support of all of the state’s executive-branch constitutional officers and Kentucky’s judicial branch, to put our checkbooks online for public view in a comprehensive and user-friendly manner." The legislature, also divided between the parties, is likewise moving to put its records in the system. (Read more)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bill would allow school boards to evaluate superintendents in closed meetings

School boards could evaluate superintendents behind closed doors, under a bill the Kentucky House approved today 67-29. Senate Bill 178 amends KRS 156.557 to require "any preliminary discussions relating to the evaluation of the superintendent by the board or between the board and the superintendent prior to the summative evaluation shall be conducted in closed session." Evaluations would still be presented in an open meeting. The bill, which goes back to the Senate for approval of an unrelated amendment, would reverse recent attorney-general and court decisions.

During the House Education Committee meeting Tuesday, Sara Call, a member of the Frankfort Independent Board of Education, testified her board had twice held closed-door evaluations with the superintendent, which was a violation of current state law, and said superintendent evaluation needed to be conducted in a closed meeting to allow for 'frank, honest and sometimes painful' conversations. "It’s sometimes difficult to be totally honest in front of the press," she told the committee, Stephenie Steitzer of The Courier-Journal reported.

The Kentucky Press Association has voiced strong disapproval of the bill, arguing the evaluation process of the highest-ranking school system employee should be done in open. "We strongly, strongly recommend that you do not pass this bill," Ashley Pack, general counsel for KPA, told the committee.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Courier-Journal reporter, photographer get a rare look at Family Court in Jefferson County

The Courier-Journal recently persuaded a Jefferson County Family Court judge to ease Kentucky's strict confidentiality rules long enough to allow reporter Deborah Yetter to research and write a rare report on, and photographer Matt Stone to take pictures of, the court's operations.

The report, the third part of a series on child abuse in the state, was published Tuesday. The story took a close look at several cases involving abused and abandoned children. Judge Joan Byer allowed access "with permission of the parties in the courtroom, as long as children and families weren't identified," Yetter wrote. "Byer said she exercised her discretion to do that because she believes, in most cases, the courts should be open and the public needs to understand what's going on with child welfare." Byer said the system is overburdened and caseworkers are under intense pressure to keep cases closed. (Photo by Matt Stone)

The report included several sidebars, one of which noted that the confidentiality rules usually followed in family court cases exceeded the requirements set by state law, and the practice of some other states. It also quoted childrens' advocates and others as saying excessive secrecy hides faults in the system. The main story can be found here. The sidebar on confidentiality rules is here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AP Managing Editors give Kentucky's big papers 1st Amendment, public-service awards

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader are among recipients of awards announce yesterday by the Associated Press Managing Editors. The Herald-Leader won a Public Service Award for its recent series of reports on appointed government boards and local-government lobbying and service groups, while the Louisville paper won a First Amendment Award for its successful seven-year fight to reveal donors to the University of Louisville Foundation.

"The legal battle between the newspaper and the university began in 2001 after the paper requested the names of people who donated to the university's McConnell Center, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., helped found," Emilu Udell writes for The C-J. "The foundation argued that it was not a public agency and so was not subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act." (Read more)

"The Herald-Leader won the Public Service Award given to newspapers with a circulation of 40,000 to 150,000," the paper and AP report. The paper's "It's Your Money" series "has examined spending at Blue Grass Airport, the Lexington Public Library, Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties. The stories revealed that the groups had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable travel, meals and other expenses. After the initial airport stories appeared, the director of the airport resigned, as did several top members of his staff." (Read more)

For the full list of winners, from APME, click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

League of Cities releasing records again

The Kentucky League of Cities has returned to its former policy of fulfilling open-records requests from the Lexington Herald-Leader, it announced today. It reserved the right to withhold records that might hurt the insurance business that has turned it from a relatively modest lobbying group to a financial institution.

“While we are withdrawing our opposition to certain requests, we will continue to protect our proprietary interests as we compete in the marketplace every day,” Mayfield Mayor Arthur Byrn, chair of the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services board, said in a press release from the league. Last week, the league said it would stop releasing records because it didn't consider itself to be a public agency. Under the state open-records law, entities that get 25 percent or more of the revenue they spend in Kentucky are public agencies.

The league indicated that last week's decision was a public-relations blunder. “Our intent to protect our insurance service programs has been greatly misunderstood to the detriment of the reputation of our organization,” KLC General Counsel Temple Juett said in the release. “Our intent has and always will be to protect the proprietary nature of our business – in particular our insurance services – which were founded in the late '80s when cities could not obtain insurance anywhere and for any price.”

After the Herald-Leader published stories last month about the salaries and expenses of top league executives, it asked the league for records of payments to law firms. That prompted the policy change that was reversed today. For the league's release, click here. For more information, see the item below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Press association criticizes bill on new investigative agency

A bill to create another investigative arm of the state legislature has drawn criticism from the Kentucky Press Association over its secrecy provisions.

The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Speaker Greg Stumbo and in the Senate by President David Williams, would set up the General Assembly Accountability and Review Division. The agency would conduct investigations, audits and reviews of all public agencies. The bill provides that proceedings of the new office would not be subject to the state's open record law and requires the cooperation of other state agencies and employees, including the attorney general and the auditor.

"Records addressed in this legislation, in our opinion, should be open to the public," Ashley Pack, general counsel for the KPA, told the Courier-Journal on Monday. "This creates an additional exemption to the Open Records Act, and adding exemptions should be done with great care."

Williams, the Burkesville Republican who is sponsor of SB 188, said the law is needed because the legislature must have the ability to investigate when no one else will. "We can't wait for a separate branch of government … to audit or not to audit."

Williams said the legislature's investigative arm would be treated like a commonwealth's attorney, county attorney or attorney general when it comes to the open records law. That is, he said, investigative records would be exempt.
However, current law covers records of the state police and attorney general's office. Records of investigations by those agencies are open, subject to exemptions within the law, when an investigation is closed.

Read the Courier-Journal story at http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009902240417

For a full text of the proposal, SB 188 and HB 540, go to http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/09RS/record.htm