This week the Kentucky Board of Education considers ending state assistance to the Robertson County Public School District. The situation provides a good example of how important decisions about education can be seriously hampered when a state school accountability system hides problems.
For Immediate Release: Monday, June 5, 2017
(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – A report released today by the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank, urges policymakers to revise and update the commonwealth’s open meetings and open records laws considering “rapid changes in the dynamics of communication and information transmission” and an increasing number of legal challenges.
“Shining the Light on Kentucky’s Sunshine Laws” is written by Amye Bensenhaver, who retired in 2016 after a 25-year career in the commonwealth’s Office of Attorney General in which she authored around 2,000 legal opinions related to the open meetings and open records laws and recently agreed to join the Bluegrass Institute team as the director of its Center for Open Government.
An online copy of the full report, including its executive summary, is available here.
Bensenhaver was a recipient of a 2017 Bluegrass Institute Liberty Award.
“We are committed to preserving what is best in the open meetings and open records law while at the same time eliminating their ambiguities, conflicts and outdated elements,” Bensenhaver said. “We offer recommendations that will ease the burden on public agencies while also reducing the likelihood of legal challenges, preserving valuable administrative and judicial resources and, most importantly, promoting the goal of open, transparent and accountable government at all levels and in all places across the commonwealth.”
Along with highlighting conflicts between open meetings and open records exemptions, which frequently cause confusion and inconsistencies related to government bodies meeting in closed session, the report also calls for more meaningful penalties as a deterrence for not complying with these laws.
“This report offers thoughtful recommendations for updating the commonwealth’s sunshine laws to reflect rapid advances in communication technology while carefully protecting against diluting the entrenched principles of transparency and accountability,” Bluegrass Institute President and CEO Jim Waters said. “We consider events in the evolution of the open records and meetings laws and make the case for closing loopholes exploited by agencies who receive a significant amount of taxpayer funding while firmly defending citizens’ access to their government’s records.
Please contact the Bluegrass Institute at 859.444.5630 or email@example.com to obtain a hard copy of the report.
For more information or comment, please contact Amye Bensenhaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.330.1816 (cell), or Jim Waters at email@example.com, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).
Along with passage during the session’s historic first week of Sen. Chris McDaniel’s SB 3, which makes legislators’ pension benefits subject to open-records requests – an issue pushed by the Bluegrass Institute’s Legislative Pension Transparency Pledge during last year’s election – Sen. Joe Bowen’s SB 2 reorganizes the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board and imposes stricter guidelines for financial disclosures and requires greater investment experience to serve on the retirement systems’ boards.
The bill also requires Senate confirmation for board appointments to the commonwealth’s three retirement systems – the Kentucky Retirement System (KRS), Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) and the Judicial Retirement System (which includes legislators’ pensions) – as well mandating uniform methods of reporting and disclosing investment fees and requiring the chair or vice chair of the House budget committee to join the Public Pension Oversight Board.
Bowen indicated in comments to reporters that an outgrowth of SB 2 will be rejecting “this notion that a fiscal impact of any board action is undefinable” while emphasizing “there are fiscal impacts on every decision made.”
The fact that both Senate Bills 2 and 3 received overwhelming support in the Kentucky House of Representative by votes of 95-1 and 99-0, respectively, indicates that lawmakers and their constituents have an appetite to know – and do – more about what’s happening with taxpayer dollars that previously disappeared into the deep dark hole of the state’s secretive and costly public-pension system.
WDRB reporter Toni Konz posted a couple of Tweets a few days ago regarding the importance of the principal being a real leader in the school. She’s right about that.
BUT, thanks to Kentucky’s awkward School Based Decision Making laws, which come from the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, principal leadership is seriously hampered in Kentucky.
Instead of supporting strong principals, Kentucky’s schools have a mandatory rule-by-committee system, a governance system that often proves problematic in human organizations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 859.444.5630 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).