City refuses to release law commissioner's request for fraud documents

lblackford@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2010 

Urban County Councilman George Myers

HANDOUT PHOTO

Lexington city officials won't release an open-records request that is at the center of a controversy at city hall, a decision that one First Amendment expert called "pure silliness."

Bruce Sahli, director of the internal audit division, turned down a request under the Kentucky Open Records Act from the Herald-Leader for a copy of an open-records request made by Law Commissioner Logan Askew in 2009.

Askew requested fraud allegations made by a city employee. He was granted a redacted version of the documents because he was named in the allegations, Askew has said. In recent weeks, the city turned down the Herald-Leader's previous request for the fraud allegations, a decision that was appealed to the state attorney general.

Sahli's Aug. 18 letter to the newspaper said Askew's open records request was exempt from public disclosure because his request was made as a private individual, not as law commissioner.

Jon Fleischaker, a noted First Amendment attorney in Louisville, called that "a nonsense response.

"It doesn't matter what capacity he (Askew) made the request in; open-records requests have always been public documents, no matter who makes them," Fleischaker said.

Sahli also declined to provide the Herald-Leader with the documents that responded to Askew's open-records request, saying those records are exempt from public disclosure because they are preliminary.

Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the newspaper plans to appeal the city's decision to the Office of the Attorney General, which interprets the Open Records Act. The newspaper also sent a letter to Mayor Jim Newberry protesting the decision.

Terry Sellars, an outside attorney hired by the city to advise Sahli and the Internal Audit Board, declined to comment about Sahli's response to the newspaper.

"The opinion and statute speak for themselves," Sellars said.

The fraud allegations are at the center of two investigations, one by an Urban County Council investigative committee and the other by State Auditor Crit Luallen. They are looking into allegations made by the city's director of risk management, Patrick Johnston, about problems in insurance procurement, and whether the allegations were related to the proposed elimination of Johnston's job.

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