A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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: ‘Sunshine is a disinfectant’ and the law; reporter Yetter tells stories of child deaths

In 2016, the Kentucky Court of Appeals issued a scathing opinion to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in an open records dispute involving access to child fatality or near fatality records maintained by the Cabinet. Reporter Debby Yetter’s devastating analysis of where Kentucky is today — three years after the court condemned the culture of secrecy in the Cabinet and nine years after the...

KY Supreme Court rules in favor of Frost Brown Todd on Department of Revenue open records case

Kentucky taxpayers now have access to the state’s Department of Revenue (DOR) tax rulings. The case, Department of Revenue v. Mark F. Sommer,was successfully argued before the Kentucky Supreme Court by Frost Brown Todd (FBT) Member Jennifer Barber. The Court ruled that the state Department of Revenue took an “unreasonable and overly broad view” of public records statutes when they refused to...

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’...

Al Cross: As General Assembly ends, it did not — in most big ways — act in the public interest

FRANKFORT – With almost all its work done, has the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly acted in the public interest? In many small ways, yes. But in most big ways, no. And, of course, it depends on how you define “public interest.” For example, what some see as needed competition for failing public schools, and more opportunity for students, is seen by others as a drain on schools...

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.”...

Judge backs attorney general, orders Kentucky State to provide documents on alleged sexual misconduct

By Tom Latek Kentucky Today A judge has ordered Kentucky State University to allow the attorney general to examine some documents about alleged sexual misconduct of some of the school’s employees. The University of Kentucky’s student newspaper asked to see the records last October for information surrounding Title IX investigations into student allegations of sexual misconduct by employees...

Kentucky Supreme Court adopts first formal open records policy, expands electronic access

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has approved an open records policy that guides how the public accesses the administrative records of the state court system. The seven Supreme Court justices voted unanimously to adopt the policy, which will take effect Aug. 15. This is the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts, the operations arm of the court system. The policy is in...

Fayette Circuit Court rules for UK in lawsuit over documents related to ex-professor’s sexual abuse

Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark Tuesday set aside Attorney General Andy Beshear’s ruling in a case involving the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at UK. The Kernel had requested certain documents from the university, which the university said were preliminary and were “employment” documents that were not subject to open records. The university did turn over other documents...

KyCIR: University of Louisville files suit to prevent release of basketball sex scandal records

By Kate Howard Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting The University of Louisville has asked a judge to overrule an attorney general’s opinion that it wrongly refused to release records related to its basketball scandal. U of L filed suit in Jefferson Circuit Court against a blogger who sought documents related to then-president James Ramsey’s decision in February to remove the men’s basketball...

Bill Straub: In legal dispute with school newspaper, UK’s Capilouto doesn’t have a leg to stand on

WASHINGTON – This is a tale about stonewalling at an institution that, sadly, remains more revered for its basketball prowess than its academic excellence, a place where a commitment to openness and lively debate should be welcomed as opposed to being treated like an annoyance. It involves the University of Kentucky and its independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, and the ongoing narrative...

Commentary: Balancing ethics while seeking truth related to sexual assaults on UK campus

By Marjorie Kirk Special to KyForward Events of the last few days have created misconceptions about reporting on sexual crimes, journalistic ethics and open records review. I would like to clear up some of those misconceptions — especially for survivors of sexual crimes who may have fears of reporting to the university or police. I was approached in March by a spokesperson for two female students...

Beshear announces plans to intervene in UK’s lawsuit against Kentucky Kernel

Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Wednesday his office will seek to intervene in the University of Kentucky’s lawsuit against its student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. ` At issue is the University of Kentucky’s attack on the Attorney General’s statutory right to review withheld records during an Open Records appeal. “I do not take this step lightly,” Beshear said “In fact, I am...

Open records expert Bensenhaver says resignation from attorney general’s office was under duress

For 25 years, Amye Bensenhaver wrote most of the Kentucky attorney general’s opinions interpreting the state open-meetings and open-records laws. Those opinions are called decisions, because they have the force of law unless overturned by a court. This week she resigned, saying she was put “under considerable duress” by state Attorney General Andy Beshear and his lieutenants, “the...

Mike Farrell: Open government won a big victory in Kentucky today, related to Health, Human Services

A three-member panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a Franklin Circuit Court ruling that the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services violated the state’s sunshine law in refusing to turn over records requested by the state’s two-largest newspapers. In addition, the court upheld the fees and penalties, totaling more than $1 million, Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd imposed when he ruled...