News Release: Government transparency and accountability the theme of the Bluegrass Institute’s 2017 Liberty Awards event @ Keeneland
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, May 30, 2017
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Making government more transparent, accountable and accessible to citizens was the theme of the Bluegrass Institute’s 2017 Legislative Breakfast and Liberty Awards event at the Keeneland Racecourse.
The late Lowell Reese was honored posthumously with a Liberty Award presented to his widow, Carol, and praised by Laura Cullen Glasscock, Reese’s successor as publisher of The Kentucky Gazette.
Noting his considerable achievements as a political advisor and strategist, including having been the state director for Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign and the architect of Rep. Hal Rogers’ successful campaign for Congress in 1980, Glasscock also lauded Reese’s work as a “meticulous reporter and researcher,” calling him “one who listened to what other people told him with healthy skepticism, but also with fairness.”
Reese’s greatest impact to Kentucky’s public policy arguably was his contribution to the ideas laying the groundwork for reforming the commonwealth’s retirement systems,
“Years before almost anyone started paying attention, Lowell sounded an alarm on the state’s pension crisis,” Glasscock said.
Much of his research and recommendations for pension reform, including bringing transparency to the legislative retirement system and exposing what he named “The Greed Bill” – House Bill 299 passed in 2005, which allowed lawmakers to calculate the size of their legislative retirement checks based on their full-time salaries as other government positions rather than their earnings as legislators – were published in “Future Shock,” a Bluegrass Institute report released in 2012.
Reese also wrote extensively about the issue on his Kentucky Roll Call site and in The Kentucky Gazette.
“Liberty awards are given to those who have made a significant difference in pushing Kentucky in the right direction,” Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters said. “Few, if any, have done more than Lowell Reese to advance sound policy and principled leadership in our state.”
Other 2017 Liberty Award winners include Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, for his tireless effort in advancing legislation to bring greater transparency and accountability to the commonwealth’s public pension system, and Amye Bensenhaver, who spent 25 years as an assistant attorney general in Frankfort, where she wrote around 2,000 legal opinions related to the state’s open records and open meetings laws.
In 2015, Bensenhaver, who recently was named director of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government, helped the institute makes its case that a Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) committee formed to hire a search firm for a new commissioner operated improperly.
Although the board denied the complaint, Bensenhaver helped guide the institute through the appeals process, which ultimately resulted in a favorable ruling by then-Attorney General Jack Conway and a much greater emphasis regarding open meetings and open records by the KBE, including a briefing for new board members on their first day in office regarding their responsibilities toward these transparency policies.
“With its theme of open, transparent and accountable government, this edition of the Liberty Awards would be incomplete without recognizing a consummate professional who – because of her great competence and commitment to the law – has helped her fellow Kentuckians gain access to their government when they were denied,” Waters said in announcing Bensenhaver’s award.
Thanks to McDaniel’s leadership and persistence, Senate Bill 3, which makes legislators’ pension benefits subject to open-records requests, was one of seven bills passed with a near-unanimous vote during this year’s historic opening week of the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
“Sen. McDaniel has become one of the most productive, yet respected, state senators,” Waters said. “It would have been much easier for him to go to Frankfort, play it safe and have a career in state government. Instead, he has come and he has pushed to bring transparency to the spending of taxpayer dollars, including those spent on pension benefits for legislators.”
McDaniel, who’s pushed for the legislative transparency bill for several years, said the difficult decisions facing the commonwealth regarding the state’s pension system must be done with all taxpayers and citizens in mind.
“You will hear a lot about the inviolable contract with state workers and retirees,” he said. “We not only have an inviolable contract with them, but there are 4.2 million other Kentuckians and taxpayers that we have a contract with,” he said.
Bensenhaver laid out her vision for the new Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government, including the need to persuade lawmakers regarding the need for a “substantial revision” of the commonwealth’s open meetings and open records laws.
“These revisions must be driven by a recognition of the changes in the dynamics of communication and informed by the clearly expressed statements of legislative policy favoring public access,” she said.
Waters praised Bensenhaver’s work, saying it will help advance the Bluegrass Institute’s influence not just our commonwealth but the entire nation.
“Not only is Kentucky on its way to becoming one of the fastest-growing and most innovate states in America, but we also want it to be known as a state with the highest regard for open meetings and open records laws,” he said.
To reach Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team members for comment, contact Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters at email@example.com, 859.444.5630 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).