By Richard G. Innes
Governmental transparency is crucial to the successful functioning of a representative democracy.
The opportunity for — and likelihood of — an abuse of power exponentially increases when the public cannot follow what their policymakers are discussing and doing.
When laws such as Kentucky's well-crafted and nationally recognized Open Meetings Act — which is designed to make the policymaking process transparent for citizens who must abide by approved policies — are ignored, our entire commonwealth suffers.
While a multitude of different public agencies are subject to the commonwealth's open-meetings laws, the attorney general's office reports that, through the end of September, just one governmental area — our state's public-education system — accounted for one out of three violations of the Open Meetings law during 2015.
Five of the 15 open meetings decisions rendered by the attorney general's office so far this year involved local boards of education, a local school's site-based council, and the most recent transgression by the state's lead education group, the Kentucky Board of Education.
The state board got on the road to open-meetings trouble in its April 2015 meeting when former education commissioner Terry Holliday made a surprise announcement that he was retiring at the end of August.
Board members hurriedly voted that same April meeting to form a special committee to choose an executive search firm to assist in finding Holliday's replacement. The committee's need to comply with open-meetings requirements wasn't mentioned and its meetings were never announced.
Whether thinking it didn't have to comply or never even considering if required to do so, the committee's actions nevertheless resulted in a clear violation of Kentucky's Open Meetings Act.
The board continues to refuse the Bluegrass Institute's very reasonable request to get a briefing from the attorney general's experts on open-meetings requirements during one of its regularly scheduled and webcast meetings. This refusal denies lower-level public education agencies an opportunity to tune in and learn, as well.
The institute appealed to the attorney general's office for an official open meetings decision.
The AG's office, in a ruling released on Aug. 14, confirmed that the executive search committee was indeed a public agency under state statutes and thus required to comply with the law.
More than 30 days have passed since the decision was released, which means it is now fixed in law.
It's time for the state education board to admit its open-meetings transgressions and also to react to the growing failure of subordinate education groups statewide to follow the law. It shouldn't be necessary to drag the board into court to force compliance. Doing so would divert taxpayer dollars needed to serve children in the classrooms.
However, the board must admit what the attorney general has proclaimed: It ignored the Open Records Act with the functioning of its subcommittee, and a webcast training session is clearly in order for all board members as a step toward assuring future compliance with the law.