Bluegrass Institute News Release: Center for Open Government scores victory in JCPS open meetings appeal
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, August 16, 2017
(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — The Kentucky Attorney General has ruled in favor of the Bluegrass Institute and its Center for Open Government in an open meetings appeal involving the Jefferson County Board of Education.
Assistant Attorney General James Herrick in a decision released Monday agreed with the Bluegrass Institute that a meeting conducted by the JCPS board on Sunday, April 30, in private law offices on the 28th floor of a downtown Louisville building violated the legal requirement that public agencies conduct their meetings “at specified times and places convenient to the public.”
The meeting was held to discuss applicants for the school district’s then-vacant interim superintendent’s position.
Herrick rejected the district’s claim that the meeting site was chosen to avoid inconvenience to JCPS staff and “conserve the considerable costs associated with opening the VanHoose Education Center on a weekend.”
The VanHoose building at 3332 Newberg Road serves as the district’s central office where the board normally convenes.
Relying on past open meetings decisions, Herrick ruled that “[a] public meeting must be held in ‘a place from which no part of the citizens . . . may be excluded by reason of not feeling they may freely attend.”
Based on previous decisions and “common experience as well as the specific experience of” Bluegrass Institute representatives who were unsuccessful in their attempts to gain entry to the 28th floor of the building at 500 West Jefferson Street on a subsequent Sunday afternoon, Herrick concluded that “it [is] reasonable to suppose that an ordinary member of the public might have been discouraged from trying to attend a meeting.”
Center for Open Government Director Amye Bensenhaver praised not only the decision but Herrick’s reasoning.
“Our goal in bringing this appeal was to establish that meetings of public agencies must always be conducted at times and places convenient to the public – even if it causes inconvenience to the public agency,” Bensenhaver said. “Regardless of whether the agency believes the issue to be discussed worthy of public interest, it’s required to conduct meetings at locations from which no member of the public may feel excluded.”
It’s not as if a “suitable public building was unavailable,” Herrick wrote, noting the availability of appropriate meeting rooms at the district’s “approximately 174 schools” in addition to the VanHoose facility.
“With such a selection of locations available in public buildings, we cannot reasonably find it ‘convenient to the public’ to hold a public meeting in a private law office on the 28th floor of a privately-owned building, based solely on unspecified ‘costs’ of opening the VanHoose building on a Sunday,” he concluded.
Bensenhaver noted that past court rulings establish clearly that “an agency’s failure to comply with the strict letter of the law in conducting its meetings ‘violates the public good.’ We intend to hold public agencies to the strict letter of the open meetings law.”
If not appealed to circuit court within 30 days, an open meetings decision issued by the Kentucky attorney general has the force and effect of law.
For more information, please contact Amye Bensenhaver at email@example.com or 502.330.1816.