Monday, May 24, 2010

Attorney general says city budget becomes public when the mayor gives it to the city council

Ruling in a case originated by the Midway Messenger, the state attorney general's office has ruled that a proposed city budget becomes public once a mayor submits it to the city's legislative body. But unless the City of Midway forgoes an appeal and releases its proposed budget for the year beginning July 1, the decision will not affect that document.

The Messenger first requested the proposed 2010-11 budget after Mayor Tom Bozarth gave it to at least some City Council members, those on the Finance Committee, which discussed the budget peripherally at a meeting in April. Bozarth declined to release the document at that meeting, saying the state Open Records Act exempted proposed budgets from disclosure.

Kentucky Citizens for Open Government, through Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, appealed to the attorney general, adopting the Messenger's argument that a document should become public once discussed at a public meeting of a public agency. Attorney General Jack Conway did not accept that argument, but did rule that once a mayor proposes a budget to a council, it becomes public.

"The proposed budget must be made accessible to the public when it is submitted to the City Council pursuant to KRS 91A.030(7) because it constitutes statutorily required final action of a public agency, in this case, the Mayor of the City of Midway," the decision said. "At this juncture, the budget forfeits the preliminary character it enjoyed while it was in preparation and is no longer a draft," one exemption in the law. For a copy of the decision in PDF format, click here.

The decision overruled decisions made under then-Attorney General Ben Chandler in 1996 and 2000. However, it may not have immediate effect, because it does not gain the force of law until the 30-day appeal period has run. Bozarth told the Messenger today that he and City Attorney Phil Moloney "will discuss what we are going to do over the next few days." The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on second at its next regular meeting on June 7. The appeal period ends June 19.

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