The Richmond Register


January 3, 2014

Judge’s ruling a victory for transparency

FRANKFORT — In his recent ruling smacking the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services with a $756,000 fine for making “a mockery” of the commonwealth’s Open Records Act, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd sent a strong message: transparency matters.

It especially matters in cases where children die or are critically injured as a result of abuse or neglect – despite the involvement of the cabinet and it social workers, which will receive nearly $2 billion in funding from state taxpayers this year.

Nothing the judge could say or do will bring back 20-month-old Kayden Branham, who died in Wayne County after drinking drain cleaner in a trailer where the dangerous drug methamphetamine was being cooked, or 9-year-old Amy Dye from western Kentucky, who was beaten to death with a hydraulic jack handle by her 17-year-old adopted brother.

Neither will the judge’s punitive measures bring back the many other children who have died while under the cabinet’s purview. However, increased transparency resulting from his decision in future similar cases will save many young lives in the years to come.

Shepherd’s decision is the culmination of a long legal battle between the cabinet, which is required to send social workers to investigate reports of suspected child abuse, and the Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader, which sued the cabinet after being denied information related to how these cases were handled.

“A lack of transparency continues to weaken efforts to protect children from dying at the hands of an abuser,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Jon Fleischaker, the Courier-Journal’s attorney who has been a dedicated proponent of government transparency throughout his career and who represented the newspaper in the lawsuits that led to Shepherd’s decision, noted that while Kentucky has one of the nation’s strongest open-records laws, it correspondingly has one of the least transparent child protection services.

"As a result, Kentucky in recent years ranks among the states with the highest rates of child-abuse deaths,” Fleischaker said. "As this culture of secrecy pervaded Kentucky’s child protection services, the rates of child abuse fatalities and near fatalities rose.”

The judge in his decision shows that not only does transparency matter, a lack of transparency – especially by an agency charged with protecting children who already are suspected of having been abused or neglected – matters perhaps even more.

Noting that his decision is not about assigning blame, satisfying some “unhealthy curiosity” or invading the privacy of mourning families, Shepherd wrote it instead is about “a single, overriding purpose: to ensure both the cabinet and the public do everything possible to prevent the repeat of such tragedies in the future. There can be no effective prevention when there is no public examination of the underlying facts.”

The judge believes shining the light brightly on this public agency – and demanding that transparency statutes are followed – will deter potential future offenses.

Brooks also called for more transparency when it comes to the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, which was established to review the state’s child protection system in order to prevent future deaths.

He stresses the need for it to be independent and credible in order to gain and keep public trust.

Such credibility would be enhanced if panel members would sign a public-disclosure form revealing potential conflicts of interest, Brooks said.  

“The public, the General Assembly and Kentucky’s kids deserve to know just who is charged with investigating these fatalities,” he said. “Do panel members have – or have they had – linkages with the cabinet, and, in fact, the executive branch? Have panel members had a role in campaign contributions with this or future administrations?”

While such disclosures don’t necessarily preclude anyone from serving on the panel, making the information transparent would strengthen the credibility of the panel’s findings.

“We will know clearly who is charged with protecting Kentucky’s kids – and that is a needed extra measure of transparency,” Brooks said. 

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s  free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at 

Text Only
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Cynicism, optimism both on display in Frankfort

    Those who spend little time in Kentucky’s Capitol and who read columns by cynics who cover it should be forgiven their disillusionment about how the people’s business is conducted.

    February 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Even Scrooge would enjoy library mystery

    Saturday afternoons and evenings are usually down time for Loretta and me.
    We simply don’t get out much after we’ve used up the movie gift certificates the kids gave us for Christmas. That means we mostly go to the movies to avoid guilt trips because our kids do work hard for their money.

    February 20, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide

Should the Richmond City Commission stop rezoning property to allow construction of apartments?

     View Results