The Kentucky League of Cities said Thursday that it is not a public agency and will no longer provide documents under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
The move comes a week after the non-profit association made changes in its policies after stories in the Herald-Leader detailed the expenses and salaries of top officials.
The League previously provided records voluntarily to the newspaper, but it now says it will no longer do so.
The League, which serves 382 member cities with lobbying, insurance and other services, "is not a public agency and not subject to the Kentucky Open Records Act," said Temple Juett, the League's attorney, in a June 25 letter to the newspaper.
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"Therefore, there will be no further disclosure of documents on a voluntary basis," Juett wrote.
Articles in the Herald-Leader about the salaries and expenses of top League executives were based on documents the KLC previously provided. The newspaper reported that executive director Sylvia Lovely's 2008 compensation package was $317,000 and that the top three officials of the League spent more than $300,000 on travel, meals and other expenses in the past three years.
The reports were part of a series of stories published by the Herald-Leader on how money is spent by public and quasi-public organizations in our area, including Blue Grass Airport and the Lexington Public Library.
In a June 17 request, the newspaper sought records of payments to the outside law firms that the League employs. A previous request asked for records of payments to Bowles Rice McDavid Graff and Love, a law firm where Sylvia Lovely's husband, Bernard Lovely, is a partner. The League denied the request.
In all the past responses to the Herald-Leader's open records requests, Juett had stated that the League's status as a public agency had never been determined, but that the League would comply voluntarily.
Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the paper will pursue the records issue through the appropriate channels.
"The Herald-Leader continues to believe that the Kentucky League of Cities is subject to the Open Records Act," Baniak said. "And, until now, the League had been providing records that were responsive to our requests under the act."
Open-records appeals can be taken directly to the attorney general's office.
A 1993 opinion from the state Attorney General's office found that the Kentucky Association of Counties, similar to the League in its structure and services, was a public agency because it received at least 25 percent of its revenues from public sources.
The League receives its revenues from city membership dues, insurance premiums and loan payments. But it is unclear whether the 1993 ruling on the Kentucky Association of Counties applies to the League.
Richmond Mayor Connie Lawson, who chairs the League's executive board, said she understood that the League wanted a legal determination specifically related to its status.
Another executive board member, Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, issued a statement saying:
"I do not understand the League's rationale for changing its position concerning open records. Given the lack of clarity to the applicability of the open meetings and open records acts to the League, I hope the League will soon obtain some guidance from the attorney general's office as to these uncertain legal issues."
The group opened its most recent board meeting to the public on June 19 after a request from the Herald-Leader. At that meeting, Lovely suspended the practice of League-paid travel for spouses of its executives and League functions at Azur, a restaurant co-owned by Bernard Lovely. The League had spent nearly $21,000 at the restaurant in the past three years.
The board also voted to form a committee to review and revise the League's policies.
Sylvia Lovely was not available for comment late Thursday.