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Editorial: Why open meetings?

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According to law, meetings of all government agencies are open to the public. That means anyone can attend and address the governing body.
There are some exceptions to open meetings, which would include special-called meetings. In those instances, the agency is restricted, again by law, to address only the item(s) on its agenda.
Also, as a part of regular, open meetings — or a special-called meeting — the city council, fiscal court, school board, etc., is permitted to go into executive (closed) session to discuss certain items. However, the reason for the closed session must be announced publicly, citing the reason, and the agency is prohibited from taking any action in the closed session.
Now, we say all this to bring up an executive session that was called for at the Liberty City Council’s regular meeting of Jan. 12. (See related story, front page)
Following regular business, the council asked to go into executive session to discuss personnel. By law, the discussion of personnel, property sale or acquisition, or proposed or pending litigation is allowed.
However, the doors were closed only for a few minutes, and when the meeting reconvened, it was announced that the matters brought up in closed session did not meet those guidelines.
First, we praise the mayor and/or city attorney for recognizing that what came up behind those closed doors couldn’t be discussed there.
Secondly, we should chastise the council here for attempting to sneak in their beef with the mayor under the guise of “personnel.” However, we won’t, as we’re willing to give the council the benefit of the doubt in that they believed issues with the mayor would fall under personnel.
This doesn’t fly because the mayor is not an employee of the city. Neither does it work because state law allows for personnel discussions behind closed doors ONLY if the discussions might lead to the appointment, discipline or dismissal of a specific individual.
We believe the council has a right to know the city’s business, and we also believe there’s nothing wrong with the members wanting to know the mayor’s position on certain things. However, the way they went about it was wrong.
So, let’s use this as a teachable moment, and remind all government officials — those newly-elected and those who have been in office for several years now — that you are bound under the Kentucky Open Meetings and Open Records Laws.
If you don’t know about those laws, then ask. It is your responsibility, as an elected official, to know about them.
As of September 2005, the Attorney General’s Office is required to provide the Open Meetings Law and the Open Records Law, along with an explanation of these statutes, to government officials. In turn, the government officials are to distribute those materials to various local officials, meaning members of the fiscal court, city council, school board, or any other board appointed by a local government official or governing body.
According to the guidelines prepared by the State Legislative Commission, “when an individual is newly-elected or appointed to local government, distribution shall be accomplished within 60 days of the election or appointment.”
County judge-executives and mayors are also required that a person sign for Open Meetings and Open Records materials, and they are also to certify to the Attorney General that those materials were distributed as required. The same distribution requirements apply to school superintendents also.
So, if you’re an elected official and you’re in the dark about Open Meetings and Open Records, why we have them, what you can and cannot do in open meetings and closed sessions — and especially if you didn’t know that you are REQUIRED to have that material — by all means, get it.