Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kentucky Open Record Laws Are Under Attack

Kentucky Medical Services Foundation (KMSF) bills for University of Kentucky

Last year, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Kentucky Open Records Act, an indispensable and vital tool for holding public officials and agencies accountable. The Kentucky open records law changed everything when it went into effect in June 1976 in the midst of general distrust in government.

Before it was signed into law by Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll, local government officials could easily hide their spending, state government agencies could hide their mistakes, and elected and appointed officials could more easily abuse their powers without any accountability.

Under Kentucky law, the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for enforcing the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act. Under the law, if citizens or journalists are wrongfully denied a request for information to a public agency, they can appeal directly to Kentucky Attorney General's office.

Recently, Kentucky universities – mainly the University of Kentucky – refused to cooperate with the Attorney General's Office. There were numerous cases brought to the Attorney General about the University of Kentucky, and the UK subsequently proceeded to appeal almost all of Attorney General's decisions in Circuit Court, wasting taxpayer money.

In each case, the universities also refused to allow the Attorney General's office to confidentially review the documents in question. This happened despite the fact that the universities were assured that the Attorney General's review was confidential under law. Universities were also told that they could redact the names and identifying information on any student victim. They still refused.
In numerous recent cases, University of Kentucky refused to release documents regarding their Healthcare division and a secretive non-profit foundation, Kentucky Medical Services Foundation (KMSF), founded by the University four decades ago.

To be clear, state law explicitly gives authority to the Attorney General to confidentially review documents. Without that review, a corrupt University of Kentucky official could easily cheat the system by providing false or fraudulent reasons to withhold information. However, if the Attorney General cannot review the documents, the bad actor could never be caught or proven wrong.

Kentucky Medical Services Foundation is a non-profit generating more than $200 million a year, which University of Kentucky officials vehemently claim to be a private entity. KMSF and UK have blocked Lexington Herald Leader and me, personally, from accessing vital documents that would reveal the inner-workings of the secretive University Foundation.

The sad part of this scenario is that public agencies are using taxpayer money to defend themselves in circuit court to appeal the Attorney General’s decisions.

Governor Matt Bevin has direct control over Kentucky's state universities and should ask them to release their documents. UK's president Eli Capiuloto should not be able use taxpayers’ money to circumvent Kentucky's Open Records Laws. Transparency is always good for the health of our government and our universities. After all, what are they trying to hide from Kentucky taxpayers by appealing open records decisions?