A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Amye Bensenhaver: Legislature’s assault on open records makes is hard to celebrate Sunshine Week

How to “celebrate” Sunshine Week 2021 when all around us is darkness? This is the question the Kentucky Open Government Coalition has struggled with since February 25. On that day lawmakers launched yet another frontal assault on our open records law. This year the assault took the form of HB 312 — until February 25 “an act relating to financial institutions.” But this assault — unlike...

Jim Waters: Protect journalists and activists from vindictive lawsuits; then there are also public records

It’s one thing for government agencies to deny open records requests from the press or public. It’s quite another for those entities to file lawsuits in retaliation against the requesters. Yet such legal retribution is happening nationwide with increasing frequency, including in Kentucky, where seriously misguided efforts by the City of Taylorsville to silence frequent local-government critic Lawrence...

Amye Bensenhaver: Kentucky Open Government Coalition offers a brief look at the 2020 Top stories

As a particularly painful year draws to a close, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition takes a look at the top ten stories of 2020. 1. Student journalists lead the open government charge. The Kentucky Kernel had its day in the Supreme Court on October 23 and awaits an opinion in The Kernel Press, Inc., d/b/a The Kentucky Kernel v. University of Kentucky. The open records case will determine whether...

Amye Bensenhaver: In UK vs. Kernel, just ask: Whose privacy is being protected?

“Kentucky Kernel editor-in-chief and reporter William Wright appeals the University of Kentucky’s denial of his request ‘to obtain copies of all records detailing the investigation by the University of Kentucky or the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity of a tenured professor and any allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any other misconduct by [the professor].’ “The...

Commentary: It’s Sunshine Week. Support public’s right to know; government is public’s business

By Amye Besenhaver and Jennifer Brown Kentucky Open Government Coalition March 15 through 21 has been designated Sunshine Week 2020. By no coincidence, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition celebrates its one year anniversary this week. The Coalition emerged during the 2019 legislative session as a voice for citizen opposition to lawmakers’ attempts to undermine the public’s right to know. Since...

Amye Bensenhaver: Here’s the brief version of the top ten open government stories of 2019

And now, the Reader’s Digest version of the top ten open government stories of 2019: 1. The release of the 2017 actuarial analysis The biggest story in 2019 was, chronologically, the last. On December 20 Governor Andy Beshear released the actuarial analysis of the former governor’s 2017 “Keeping the Promise” pension reform plan. The analysis revealed that “the proposed 2017 reforms would...

Amye Bensenhaver: Rep. Chris Harris will be missed in legislature as champion of open records

Personal tributes have been pouring in since Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, announced on December 19 that he will not seek re-election as state representative for Pike and Martin Counties. Open government proponents are deeply saddened by Rep. Harris’s announcement. His advocacy for the laws securing the public’s right to know has been unwavering. As a member of the Pike County Fiscal...

Amye Bensenhaver: KY Supreme Court strikes blow for open government; court is arbiter of access

In what may be the single most important victory for open government in recent memory, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an opinion on September 26 in which it repudiated the Legislative Research Commission’s argument that it, and not the courts, are the final arbiter of access to records of the LRC and the legislature. The opinion in Becky Harilson, etc., et al. v. Hon. Phillip J. Shepherd, et...

Amye Bensenhaver: KY citizens own the plane, Governor, and have a right to know how you use it


“The information is out there. The people can see all of the flights that have been taken and can see where the money came from. “The real question is: Why does it matter what the purpose (of the trip) is? Did taxpayers pay for it? If they did, then they should know the purpose. If they didn’t pay for it, it’s none of their business.” This, according to the Bowling Green Daily News,...

Amye Bensenhaver: Resisting tranparency at all costs — and that’s why open records laws exist

It is deeply disturbing that a public agency — whose compliance with state transparency laws is found by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts to fall “drastically short” — concludes its response to the auditor’s examination with the statement that it “compl[ies] with all governing statutes *to the extent possible.*” This is how the Kentucky Retirement Systems responded to Auditor Mike...

Amye Bensenhaver: Recent Fayette Circuit Court decision another major victory for open records law

With very little fanfare, the open records law recently claimed another victory in the Fayette Circuit Court. On April 25, Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell affirmed a 2015 open records decision issued by the Office of the Attorney General in a dispute concerning access to the records of the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation. The issue presented to the Fayette Circuit Court in Kentucky Medical...

Amye Bensenhaver: Illegal less-than-quorum meetings are the crabgrass of violations

What violation of the open meetings law is as common as crabgrass and just as pernicious? Ask the Glasgow Daily Times. On April 2, the newspaper reported that it would appeal the Glasgow Electric Plant Board’s denial of a complaint alleging that the board violated the open meetings law by engaging in a series of less than quorum nonpublic meetings to discuss board business but avoid the requirements...

Amye Bensenhaver: How to succeed in open records by refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer

Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, has succeeded where other open records disputants often fail. He did this by simply refusing to take “no” for an answer. Cross is no stranger to the open records law, and his reputation for tenacity no doubt precedes him. On March 20, Cross submitted a request to the Kentucky Horse Racing...

Amye Bensenhaver: A new exception to open records should always raise legislative red flags

Twice last week we were reminded of a common argument used by public agencies to avoid their statutory duties under the open records law. The first reminder came in the form of judicial repudiation of the argument. The second reminder came in the form of legislative acceptance of the argument in a newly enacted, but wholly unvetted, exception to the open records law. The argument is based on the agencies’...

Commentary: Advocates say Kentucky needs a citizen-based defense of sunshine laws

By Amye Bensenhaver 
and Jennifer P. Brown Special to KyForward Sunshine Week is upon us and with it the inevitable meteorological metaphors for open government climate change at the federal, state, and local level. These metaphors carry meaning, especially in 2019. There is no better time than now for all Kentuckians to be aware of potential serious threats to laws that protect the public’s right...

Amye Bensenhaver: Public right to know; consumer lenders don’t deserve secrecy in disclosures

HB 285, sponsored by Michael Meredith, (R-Oakland), is a 30-page bill that is intended to “modernize” regulation and oversight of these consumer loan companies that are permitted to charge a greater rate of interest “than otherwise permitted by law.” Whether Meredith’s bill achieves this goal is a topic for another day. But you can add HB 285 to the growing list of bills introduced in the...

Amye Bensenhaver: The sunlight fades in Kentucky; open government takes and needs constant vigilance

In an era when virtually every public official gives lip service to the importance of transparency and accountability, what is it that motivates a legislator to introduce a bill that abridges these twin goals? What, indeed, when our time tested open records law strikes a reasonable balance between the need for public oversight of governmental operations and the competing need for governmental confidentiality. Twice...

Analysis: What determines a ‘public record’? The nature, purpose of document, not where it is kept

By Amye Bensenhaver Special to NKyTribune On January 15, Attorney General Andy Beshear moved closer to overruling a heavily criticized 2015 open records decision issued by his predecessor, Jack Conway, on his last day in office. In the 2015 decision, cited by Senator Damon Thayer in 2018 as the basis for his ill-fated proposal to exclude “emails, texts or calls on devices paid for entirely with...

Amye Bensenhaver: Some things shouldn’t change; ‘selective disclosure’ does not apply to open records

A bedrock principle of the open records law has recently come under fire. BR 821, pre-filed by Danny Carroll (R-Paducah), was quickly withdrawn after access advocates vociferously criticized the bill. Among other offensive proposals, the bill would permit courts to impose agency attorneys’ fees on open records requesters in cases in which the court found the requesters’ purpose “inproper.”...

Amye Bensenhaver: Is there an ideal public records law? Kentucky is among the majority with its D+

Is there an ideal public records law among the 50 states? MuckRock, a self-described “collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed,” recently asked this question. The article begins by noting that in a “State Integrity Report”...