City reverses course, will release law commissioner's records request

but response documents withheld

lblackford@herald-leader.comAugust 21, 2010 

Lexington officials partly reversed course and agreed to release an open-records request made by the city's law commissioner that is related to ongoing investigations in city government.

Bruce Sahli, director of the city's internal audit division, initially turned down a request under the Kentucky Open Records Act from the Herald-Leader for a copy of the open-records request made by Law Commissioner Logan Askew in 2009. Askew had requested fraud allegations made by a city employee and related investigative documents.

On Thursday, the Herald-Leader protested in a letter to Mayor Jim Newberry. Keith Horn, an attorney for the city, said in a letter that was sent to the newspaper on Thursday evening that Sahli, after consulting with outside attorney Terry Sellars, decided to make Askew's records request available to the newspaper.

Still, the city is not releasing the documents that Askew received in response to his request, which the newspaper also asked to see.

Askew 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 the newspaper appealed to the state attorney general.

The attorney general's office ruled Friday that the public does not have a right to see the documents.

Newberry spokeswoman Susan Straub said Sahli's initial refusal to release Askew's records request "made no sense and was wrong, but we consulted Terry."

Sellars and Sahli then changed their minds. Sahli declined to comment Friday.

"I talked to Keith later in the day, and it wasn't in accordance with past law department practice," which releases open records requests, Sellars said Friday.

The Internal Audit division and board are housed in the Lexington-Fayette Government Center and are financed by the Urban County Government, but under its charter, both groups operate independently from the mayor's office. Under the charter, the mayor appoints all the board members.

Askew was told about Sahli's investigation of the fraud allegations by Newberry's top aide, Joe Kelly, who is a non-voting member of the Internal Audit Board.

Askew's request was typed on personal letterhead, and it asks for any and all documents related to investigations made by Sahli or Mountjoy Chilton Medley in 2008 and 2009.

The allegations are now at the center of investigations by an Urban County Council committee and the state auditor's office. Those investigations are focused on Patrick Johnston's allegations about problems in insurance procurement and whether the allegations were related to the proposed elimination of Johnston's job.

In response to his open-records request, Askew received only the 2009 fraud risk assessment, which had been heavily redacted, with the exception of Johnston's name.

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