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City attorney reviews Bardstown’s recent Open Meetings Act violations

City Attorney Tom Donan discusses the recent findings by the Kentucky Attorney General that the city and its committees violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette

Editor’s note: Check back soon for additional coverage of the Bardstown City Council’s Tuesday meeting.

Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, 11:55 p.m. — As part of a lengthy agenda of council business, City Attorney Tom Donan spent nearly 25 minutes Tuesday night explaining to the council members the latest Kentucky Attorney General rulings that state the council violated portions of the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

It was the first discussion in an open council session of two of the city’s four Attorney General decisions that found the city in violation of the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

The decisions discussed were the most recent violations — 12-OMD-139 of July 31, 2012, and 12-OMD-146 of Aug. 8, 2012. Each focused on the violations of the Act regarding the procedures for the council and its committees for entering into a session closed to the public. All of the Open Meetings complaints were filed by Bardstown resident Kevin Brumley.

The city’s 2012 Open Meetings Act decisions by the Attorney General’s office  include (click each to download in Microsoft Word format):

The Kentucky Open Meetings Act has very precise guidelines for entering in a closed meeting. Donan reviewed the AG’s opinion and findings, noting the AG’s office did not agree with every point of Brumley’s complaints.

In 12-OMD-139, the complaint focused on the council’s Safety Committee/Selection Committee meeting of Feb. 20, 2012. The committee was tasked with reviewing applicants for the job of city fire chief. The AG’s office agreed with Brumley’s complaint that the committee violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to state the general nature of business to be discussed in its closed meeting. But the Attorney General’s office disagreed with his assertion that discussing candidates’ qualifications in a closed meeting also violated the Act.

In 12-OMD-146, the AG agreed with Brumley’s complaint that the council violated the Open Meetings Act at its special-called Jan. 26, 2012, meeting when it again failed to again comply with Act’s notice requirements. The AG also agreed the council violated the Act by discussing topics outside the items listed on the agenda. The AG did not agree with Brumley’s assertion that the meeting agenda was defective.

Donan noted that in his responses to the AG’s office on behalf of the city, the city readily admitted the mistakes made at the meetings regarding the proper procedures for entering closed session.

Special meetings require close attention to detail, he explained. The council’s mistakes were not willful violations of the Act, he said.

Councilman Fred Hagan asked if they were also going to discuss the city’s earlier violations of the Open Meetings Act (12-OMD-80 and 12-OMD-118). Those AG decisions also detailed Open Records violations.

Donan mentioned the earlier violations, but his discussion was limited to the latest violations.

At the end of the council meeting Tuesdy evening, Mayor Bill Sheckles explained “We’re not willfully trying to not have open meetings. What we’ve been cited on are technicalities,” he said. “I don’t put much into it. We’ll address them and move on.”

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