GLASGOW – Barren County Fiscal Court has yet to schedule a training suggested by the Glasgow Daily Times more than two months ago in response to a possible violation of the Kentucky Open Meetings Act for a second time over about six weeks last fall.
When the fiscal court had a special-called meeting Sept. 3, it emerged from a closed session and unanimously agreed “to adopt ordinance No. 631 and 632.”
There was no other explanation or discussion during the meeting about what these ordinances were, but they created two new positions and provided job descriptions thereof, with the intent explained afterward that one person would share the responsibilities of both.
A Daily Times complaint letter later that month alleged a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Discussion of general personnel issues in closed session is not allowed under the personnel-related exemption to the law, and the vote on the ordinances was not on the agenda for the special meeting, as required by the Kentucky Revised Statute.
The law requires that the complaining party suggest remedies to the violation, and those included an acknowledgement and apology from the fiscal court.
At the Oct. 15 fiscal court meeting, by reading a prepared statement aloud, Hale acknowledged and apologized for violating the Kentucky Open Meetings Act by discussing general personnel matters during a closed session, although he said any violation was unintentional. The fiscal court then emerged from a closed session later in that same meeting and decided to advertise the open position of assistant county treasurer.
“The only way that matter should have been discussed in closed session,” the Daily Times stated in its second complaint letter, “is if you had a specific person you were proposing to appoint to that position, and even then, that is the only portion of the discussion that should have been allowed in closed session. Because you subsequently decided to advertise for someone, that leaves doubt that you even discussed a specific individual for the job. Discussion of the need to have someone in that position and how to go about filling it or whether to advertise for it should have taken place in an open meeting.”
The Daily Times suggested the additional remedy of scheduling a training for the entire fiscal court and county attorney so they could better acquaint themselves with the law and subsequent decisions from Kentucky courts and the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General pertaining to fulfillment of the law and, ideally, avoid future violations.
The Daily Times noted that the Kentucky Association of Counties may have such training opportunities available and that Amye Bensenhaver, a retired assistant attorney general and a founding member and a director of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, offered to do the training at no cost to the county, as she has family connections here.
The county attorney responded, taking responsibility for tardiness of the response to the original complaint, but denied that the discussion in closed session was improper.
“[It] related to the announcement by Denise Riddle that she would be retiring her position as County Treasurer and hence, the need for a replacement was on the horizon. At the time the meeting was held, on October 15th, that information was private in nature and related to a specific employee,” Thomas wrote in her response.
The personnel-related exception to the Open Meetings Act is only for “[d]iscussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an individual employee” – not an impending retirement.
Thomas added she would pass the recommendation for a local training to Hale and the fiscal court, acknowledging that, “as with any position, additional training and education is always beneficial.”
The Daily Times has received no notice of any such training.
After an unrelated Feb. 5 meeting that Hale attended, the Daily Times asked the judge-executive whether he’d asked anyone to set up the training, and he shook his head to indicate he had not.
“Do you intend to?” he was asked.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Is there any reason you wouldn’t have one at this point?” the Daily Times asked.
“No, not that I can think of,” Hale said.
He was asked what the next step would be if he decided to schedule one, whether he just needed to ask the fiscal court clerk to do that, for example, and he said he knows “plenty of folks that teach parliamentary procedure and Open Meetings.”
He said when asked that he didn’t know whether the Kentucky Association of Counties charged for the service and was reminded that at least one option at no cost had been forwarded.
“Sounds good,” Hale said.
When asked at a different event Wednesday whether there was any update to that Feb. 5 conversation, he said there was not.
If the Daily Times had chosen to file a complaint with the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General, it had to do so by 60 days after the last response was received. That date has passed.