Thursday, April 22, 2010

Council to discuss budget Mon.; denial of request for proposal is appealed to attorney general

The Midway City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 26 at City Hall to discuss the proposed city budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget discussion was scheduled for the regular meeting this past Monday, but was delayed because Mayor Tom Bozarth was out of town due to the death of his brother-in-law in St. Louis.

Bozarth has given the budget proposal to council members, but has declined to make it public, saying it will not be released until the council adopts it. The Midway Messenger made a written request for a copy of the proposal during the finance committee meeting last week. Bozarth orally denied the request and Council Member Sharon Turner, the committee chair, backed him up. In a written response dated Friday, April 16, Bozarth said the proposed budget is "purely preliminary" and will be released when all council has "taken action that finalizes the budget."

This week the Kentucky Press Association appealed the denial to the attorney general's office, decisions of which have the power of law in open-records and open-meetings matters. The appeal arguues that the exceptions in the Open Records Act for “preliminary drafts” and “preliminary recommendations” are very limited. “Recommendations are by nature preliminary, so the adjective in the latter phrase compounds its limiting nature,” the appeal says. “Likewise, the former phrase does not simply say ‘draft’ or ‘preliminary document,’ but uses two limiting words together. A proposed budget is a document that by nature usually goes through a lengthy process of drafting, consideration and adoption. A proposed budget being circulated among employees of a public agency might be considered a ‘preliminary draft,’ but our position is that it ceases to fit that phrase once it is distributed to and discussed by members of a public agency at a public meeting. After all, a budget is the basic policy document for a government, and KRS 61.871 says, ‘The General Assembly finds and declares that the basic policy of KRS 61.870 to 61.884 [the Open Records Act] is that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest and the exceptions provided for by KRS 61.878 or otherwise provided by law shall be strictly construed, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others.’”

Bozarth attached to his written response the first page of an attorney general's opinion that denied a newspaper access to a proposed city budget, but the appeal argues that the opinion does not apply “because that case did not deal with discussions by members of a public agency at a public meeting. Other parts of the law support disclosure of documents being discussed by members of a public agency at a public meeting.” For a PDF of the appeal, click here.

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