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.

Streets committee meets Tues. to talk sidewalks

The Streets and Lights Committee of the Midway City Council will hold a meeting tomorrow, May 25, at 4:30 pm upstairs in the Community Room of City Hall, to discuss sidewalk issues.

Sidewalks are an issue in discussions on the city budget, which the full council is scheduled to adopt on second reading at its next regular meeting on May 7.

Monday, May 10, 2010

'Revenue streams' on agenda as budget looms; city defends refusal to provide copy of proposal

The Midway City Council will be dealing with money matters in the coming week. Tomorrow at noon, the Finance and City Property Committee will meet at City Hall "to discuss Revenue Streams, and review any updates on City Property," the city's official notice says.

Next Monday at 5:30 p.m., the full council is scheduled to give first reading to the ordinance that will establish the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget was discussed at a meeting last month, and the formal first reading was to have been held at the regular meeting on May 3, but that meeting was canceled because a quorum was not expected.

City officials have declined to release a copy of the proposed budget to the Midway Messenger, and the Kentucky Press Association has appealed the denial to the state attorney general's office, whose decisions have the force of law in open-records and open meetings matters. The argument of KPA and the Messenger is that once a quorum of a public agency discusses a basic policy document such as a budget in a public meeting, the document should be considered a public record, just as proposed state and federal budgets are.

In its response to the appeal, the city cited previous attorney general's decisions holding that a proposed budget is a preliminary document until it is adopted, and thus exempt from disclosure. "If a proposed preliminary draft budget loses its exempt status ... between the time of its initial creation and the version that receives final approval upon passage by a governmental body, then the aforementioned statute becomes unclear and blurred and subject to a host of interpretations other than its plain meaning and will require deciding what exceptions will be made to the exemption," wrote the city's attorney, Phil Moloney of Lexington. "Surely this was not the legislative intent of the statute when the exemption was created."

The first point of Moloney's letter noted that KPA did not request a copy of the budget. The open-records law does not require appeals to be filed by someone who has been denied a record. To read the full, three-page letter in a scanned PDF, click here.