Eastern Kentucky University violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by denying the Lexington Herald-Leader documents about the departure in June of EKU Center for the Arts director Debra Hoskins, the Office of the Attorney General has ruled.
In June, EKU officials tried to fire Hoskins a week before she announced her resignation to the Center's board of directors.
Subsequently, the Herald-Leader submitted an open-records request to EKU for all documents pertinent to the issue, including evaluations, performance appraisals, letters of commendation and letters of reprimand, and the June 12 termination letter and severance agreement. The school denied the request, citing a confidentiality agreement signed by EKU and Hoskins.
The attorney general's opinion, which carries the weight of law, holds that confidentiality agreements do not outweigh the public's right to know details of "the operation of a public agency."
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"As the matter currently stands, there is an issue of transparency regarding Ms. Hoskins' departure that can only be resolved by disclosure of internal audits of the center she directed and personnel records relating to her performance as director," the opinion states.
Kentucky law "does not authorize non-disclosure of these records, and EKU's reliance on the exception to support the confidentiality clause in its agreement and release was misplaced."
Previous case law, including a 1997 case between the Herald-Leader and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, reaffirmed that a confidentiality clause "cannot in and of itself create an inherent right to privacy superior to and exempt from the statutory mandate for disclosure contained in the Open Records Act."
Judith W. Spain, EKU's general counsel, said the university would comply with the opinion.
"We recognize the authority of the attorney general in open-records matters and appreciate the clarification provided in this specific matter," Spain said in a statement.
Hoskins was hired at the EKU Center in February 2011 after many years at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. Hoskins' annual salary was about $108,000 as of September 2011, according to data supplied by EKU.
According to minutes from a special meeting of the center's board on June 14, Hoskins was given a letter June 12 terminating her employment and ordering her to vacate her office at the center. The minutes did not offer any reason for the termination, and university officials declined to discuss the personnel matter at the time.
The university announced Hoskins' resignation on the morning of June 19.