A closer look at the AG’s open meetings ruling

On Monday, the Messenger-Inquirer learned that Attorney General Jack Conway’s office had ruled that discussions held by the city and county that included the decision to submit an offer for the Executive Inn Rivermont were not in violation of the state open meetings law.

The newspaper filed a complaint with the city and the county after comments by Downtown Development Director Fred Reeves on July 18 that the decision had been made to submit the offer, and what that offer should be, “in consultation with me and the elected officials through various individual conversations.”

Under state law, public bodies can only take action at an official meeting, and it did not appear that a meeting had been called to reach the decision to submit a purchase offer on the hotel. City and county officials argued that the offer was preliminary, and was therefore not an official action that would have required calling a formal meeting to take.

In his written opinion mailed last week, Attorney James Ringo with the attorney general’s office said he was “unable to resolve the question of whether final action was taken” because both the city and the county refuted Reeves’s statement, which was made to myself and reporter Jim Mayse and can be heard here.

Without resolving that question, the core of the complaint by the Messenger-Inquirer remains unresolved.

Ringo argued that public bodies have the right to hold informal discussions to educate themselves about issues, which was not in dispute. Ringo also wrote that “because there is no evidence in the record” that members of both commissions engaged in a series of unofficial, smaller meetings, or conversations, to reach their decision, there is no violation.

Ringo failed to address the newspaper’s contention that the law was broken when the city commission and fiscal court decided to make an offer on the Executive Inn Rivermont without calling an official meeting to make that decision. Ringo instead focused solely on the discussions that led up to that decision, without addressing the decision itself.

Ringo did reaffirm that using smaller, unofficial meetings to discuss public business “should constitute the rare exception to the general rule of public discussion.”

Hopefully this process has helped all involved become more aware of what the open meetings law requires and why it is important so such disputes can be avoided in the future.

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Attorney General’s office sends out open meetings, records reminder to local governments

Attorney General Jack Conway announced Wednesday that his office will be sending an update on the state’s open meeting and open records laws to more than 1,400 public officials.

The update will include a new provision approved by the General Assembly this spring that will allow public agencies to notify the public and press about special meetings by e-mail. That change could allow the public to learn about special meetings more quickly and efficiently and make it easier for those agencies to provide appropriate notice.

Public officials who receive the update  are required by law to pass it along to “all elected and appointed officials and members within the county, city, school district or university they represent,” the attorney general’s office noted.

In its press release, Conway’s office notes that the update “is aimed at enhancing public officials’ understanding of the law and ensuring open government.”

In other open meetings law news, the Messenger-Inquirer has received notice that Conway’s office has started its investigation into a complaint by the newspaper against the city of Owensboro and Daviess Fiscal Court.

The complaint alleged that both governments arrived at the decision to submit an offer for the Executive Inn Rivermont and what purchase price to offer without calling a special meeting of elected officials. The city and county both denied the complaint, which prompted the review by Conway’s office.

The attorney general’s office received the Messenger-Inquirer’s appeal on July 23 and has 10 business days to issue an opinion about whether the two governments broke the open meetings law.

Update…

Joe Biesk with the Associated Press has the full story on the open meetings law changes here or here.

City, county reject Messenger-Inquirer’s open meetings law complaint

The city and county have rejected a complaint by the Messenger-Inquirer filed last week accusing the two government bodies of breaking Kentucky’s open meetings law with their recent decision to try to buy the Executive Inn Rivermont.

The gist of the response from the city and county is that neither body took “final action” in agreeing on a price to offer for the closed, 600-room hotel and submitting what they call a preliminary purchase offer to hotel owners Marshall Investments.

That decision was reached not at an official meeting but during several conversations among elected officials, according to Downtown Development Director Fred Reeves and Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire. However, since the city and county don’t view the decision as a” final action,” they maintain that no official meeting was required.

To learn more about what the open meetings law says and when violations occur, check out my earlier post here.

The newspaper submitted an appeal of the rejected complaint on Wednesday to state Attorney General Jack Conway’s office, which will make a ruling in 10 business days.

Read the full story in the Messenger-Inquirer.