Your Right to Know - Part I

By  | 

"Open records and open meetings, especially open records, should be fundamental to the operation of any office, because that's part of their job," says Jon Fleischaker, media attorney and co-author of Kentucky's open records law.

Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archives says, "It's in Article I about the Congress and it says the Congress shall publish its proceedings, except for those parts which at different times may be sensitive, which it can vote to withhold. In other words, secrecy was the exception, not the rule."

So even though it's in the constitution, by 1966 the U.S. government had gotten so secretive, congress passed the "freedom of information act," but it was weak, with no time limits for government agencies to respond, no penalties for non-compliance, and the ability to charge unlimited fees to persons making the request.

But a public outcry over the abuse of power uncovered in the "Watergate break-in" during the Nixon administration, caused congress to toughen the "freedom of information act" in 1974. At the same time, Kentucky passed an "open meetings" law, and in 1976 passed an "open records" law.

Then in the 1990's, the state legislature expanded the scope of the law to include all agencies in Kentucky using public funds. "And what it does is allow an individual to get a binding legal ruling on their rights, as to access to government records, without having to retain council and go to court, and go to the expense that's associated with doing that," say Rob Jones of the Kentucky Attorney General's office. The revisions also gave the Attorney General's opinion the weight of law, which meant agencies could not ignore it.

Kentucky Meetings Legally
Held Behind Closed Doors
-Parole Boards
-Collective Bargaining Sessions
-Certain Real Estate Transactions
-Certain Employee Matters
-Certain Business Negotiations
-Pending Litigation Involving a Public Agency

Government Records Legally
Kept From Public View
- Some Law Enforcement Records
- Some Real Estate Documents
- Personal Information Prohibited From
Disclosure for Privacy Reasons

"Evaluations of public employees, how they do their public job, that's clearly not private," says Fleischaker, "Frankly, too many public officials feel overburdened, because they're doing what they're supposed to do. And in order to do its work effectively, you have to know what the government is doing. You have to have accurate information."

To find out what state government was doing, the "Kentucky Press Association" conducted a survey last year. We'll tell you what they learned about the current status of "your right to know," in our next segment.