The Bluegrass Institute’s commitment to open government is absolute.
We were therefore dismayed to learn that the Kentucky Attorney General was recently compelled to instruct the Corbin Public Library Board on the fundamentals of the 43-year-old open meetings laws and to conclude that this public board’s conduct violated those laws.
The board ran afoul of the laws by failing to give notice of special board and board committee meetings, record and approve minutes of its meetings, observe the requirements for entering closed sessions and for conducting meetings in a locked building.
Board officials who just within the past year received written materials issued by the attorney general explaining the requirements of both the open meetings and open records laws and who were afforded the opportunity to attend local training sessions presented jointly by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the attorney general – three hours of which was devoted to open meetings and open records – and who were directly targeted for open meetings and open records training via webinars facilitated by Libraries and Archives, ignored both the spirit and letter of the open meetings laws at the expense of the public’s statutorily protected right to know how the board conducts its business.
These egregious violations are by no means confined to local agencies.
In 2015, the Bluegrass Institute successfully challenged the Kentucky Board of Education’s public instruction to a formally constituted committee tasked with recommending a search firm to assist in hiring a new commissioner to conduct committee meetings by telephone.
Prohibitions on telephonic meetings are as old as the open meetings laws, and committees of public agencies are – and always have been – bound by the laws to the same extent as the agencies that create them.
Unlike the library board, whose members expressed contrition for their improper actions, the Kentucky Board of Education defended its actions and refused – even after receiving an adverse ruling from the attorney general – to implement the Bluegrass Institute’s proposed remedy: open meetings training for its members by a representative of the attorney general’s office.
There is, perhaps, no greater irony than educators resisting education.
The Bluegrass Institute is poised to undertake new initiatives aimed at achieving transparent, accountable and responsive government.
Education is an important component of these initiatives.
There is much more to come.
–Amye Bensenhaver is director of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government. She is one of the foremost experts on Kentucky’s nationally recognized open records and open meetings laws, having written nearly 2,000 legal opinions forcing government entities to operate in the open during a nearly 25-year career as an assistant attorney general in the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office.