Board might have broken meetings law

ralessi@herald-leader.comDecember 24, 2008 

As part of a regular public meeting of the Blue Grass Airport Board last Wednesday, the board went into a closed-door session and agreed that airport executive director Mike Gobb should be suspended, board members said Tuesday.

That might have broken the state's open meeting law, which requires public boards and agencies to make personnel decisions in view of the public.

The board didn't inform anyone last week that it had reached a decision.

But Tuesday, after the Herald-Leader reported that Gobb had been suspended, board members said the issue was discussed, although not specifically voted upon, during its private session.

"I think the board was unanimous in the decision," said board member David Stevens. "We didn't think we needed to take a vote" because the chairman has the authority to suspend Gobb, he said.

Bernard Lovely, the chairman, said the board only discussed the actions he could take.

"There was a consensus as to the action that the chairman and the attorney could take," Lovely said.

Lovely and the board's attorney, W. Thomas Halbleib Jr., sent a letter Friday to Gobb's lawyer saying Gobb would be placed on indefinite paid leave pending the results of at least two financial reviews of travel expenses.

But coming to such a decision constitutes breaking the law, said Jon L. Fleischaker, a Louisville lawyer with Dinsmore & Shohl who specializes in First Amendment issues.

"They violated the law," he said. "It sounds like a vote to me. They can talk about it in closed session, but they cannot make a decision in closed session. It doesn't matter whether they did it by consensus or by taking a vote, they can't make a decision like that in closed session."

Halbleib, however, said it wasn't a violation because the decision ultimately was made and carried out by Lovely.

"The board members did not make a decision," he said. "Bernie made a decision."

If the board was found to have broken the open-meetings law, the public has little recourse, Fleischaker said. But a Kentucky Appeals Court in 1995 nullified a decision by the Floyd County School Board after judges ruled that the board improperly fired employees in closed session.

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