Education

UK found in violation of Kentucky open records law

The attorney general’s office finds the UK HealthCare Compensation Planning Committee is a public agency, which requires it to keep an accurate record of votes and actions.
The attorney general’s office finds the UK HealthCare Compensation Planning Committee is a public agency, which requires it to keep an accurate record of votes and actions.

The University of Kentucky violated state law when it denied a request for details of meetings held by a committee that decides doctors’ salaries, the Kentucky attorney general’s office has ruled.

According to a May 19 opinion from Andy Beshear’s office, the UK HealthCare Compensation Planning Committee is a public agency and “failed to meet its statutorily assigned burden of proving it conducted an adequate search for requested meeting minutes.”

The attorney general’s office rejected UK General Counsel William Thro’s argument that a court has previously determined that the attorney general is not authorized to review a denial of records based on their stated nonexistence.

In that case, Cabinet for Health and Family Services v. Todd County Standard, the newspaper won access to records involving the brutal murder of 9-year-old Amy Dye. Thro said that case supported his belief that only a court, not the Attorney General is authorized to review a denial of records based on their stated nonexistence, the May 19 order reads.

“Counsel, however, ignores the facts and the holding” in that case, the order said, because the Attorney General had asked for the search method the cabinet used to locate records in response to the newspaper’s request. “The court did not question the attorney general’s authority to request additional documentation … but instead expressed consternation at the cabinet’s ‘blatant refusal to respond’ to this and all other requests for additional documentation.”

The attorney general’s office also requested information from UK to determine whether the compensation committee is a public agency, which would require it to keep an accurate record of votes and actions. It is, the office concluded.

“As a committee established by the dean of the College of Medicine to advise on faculty compensation, a majority of whose members are clinical department chairs appointed by the dean and expressly charged with the duty to advise the dean on faculty compensation,” the committee is a public agency, the May 19 order found. “Were the statutes intended to be construed in the narrow fashion the university suggests, only the highest ranking officials or governing bodies of a public agency could appoint a committee that is subject to the Open Records and or Open Meetings Acts. Such an interpretation flies in the face” of state law aimed at ensuring accountability of committees and advisory committees.

Because it is a public agency, the minutes of its meetings “presumptively exist,” so UK violated state law by “impeding the timely release of committee meeting minutes when it failed to conduct an adequate search for the minutes.”

UK officials have not yet decided if they will appeal.

“The university is reviewing the determination that a non-policy making advisory committee is a public agency, but UK cannot turn over records that do not exist,” said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

He said the committee does meet, but does not take minutes.

UK HealthCare faculty compensation comes directly from the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation, which oversees all of UK’s medical billing and divvies up more than $200 million a year, most of it for doctors’ salaries.

UK is fighting another attorney general opinion which found that the foundation is a public agency because its board is made up entirely of UK employees, including the same UK HealthCare department chairs that are on the compensation committee. The case has not yet been heard in Fayette Circuit Court.

Lachin Hatemi, a former UK medical student, filed both open records requests.

“The University of Kentucky continues to challenge Kentucky attorney general’s authority to enforce Kentucky open records laws and refuses to release vital documents which would explain how UK operates,” Hatemi said Sunday. “UK administrators are not above the law and they will not be allowed to operate behind closed doors as they used to in the past.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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