Politics & Government

Facts don't support claim that Andy Barr subverted open-records law

The Herald-Leader will routinely check the accuracy of statements made by candidates and their surrogates leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

The statement: "Andy Barr ... was even admonished by the attorney general for subverting the state open records law."

— Television commercial for U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles

The ruling: False

The facts: Barr, a Lexington lawyer, is the Republican challenger to Chandler in the Nov. 6 election.

Chandler's claim that Barr was caught subverting the Kentucky Open Records Act stems from an October 2007 request for documents submitted to Gov. Ernie Fletcher's office, where Barr was Fletcher's deputy general counsel.

A man named Dennis Langford had requested documents produced by Fletcher's transition team at the Kentucky Department of Housing, Building and Construction four years earlier, as Fletcher prepared to take office. Langford had been commissioner of the department under Gov. Paul Patton.

In a reply to Langford's request, Barr said the governor's office didn't possess such documents. He forwarded the request to the Department of Housing, Building and Construction so officials there could check their files. A week later, David Reichert, general counsel for the department, told Langford he could not find such documents either.

Langford appealed the denial to then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo. After Langford's appeal, Reichert said a 2003 "transition report" for the department belatedly had been discovered in a hearing room at the department, and he offered to provide a copy to Langford.

In a Dec. 4, 2007, decision, Assistant Attorney General Michelle Harrison said the governor's office did not violate the Open Records Act because it could not produce documents that it did not possess. However, Harrison criticized the Fletcher administration for failing to implement a program for ensuring the consistent preservation of government records, such as the ones Langford requested.

This failure "constitutes a subversion of the intent of the act," Harrison said.

She referred the matter to the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives for further review. That agency crafts the policies for state records retention.

The attorney general's decision was sent to the parties involved, including Barr, who was the governor's lawyer.

Campaign Watchdog finds Chandler's claim to be false because the attorney general's office did not admonish Barr individually, as Chandler states. It criticized the Fletcher administration's failure to retain documents created well before Barr joined the governor's office in 2005.