Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear found the Berea City Council in violation of the state's open meetings and records laws after the council did not attach an agenda to a notice of a special meeting back in January.
The violation stemmed from one of two complaints filed by Berea resident Ethan Connelly in September, claiming the Jan. 7 special called meeting of the Audit and Finance Committee was in fact a council meeting with a quorum present, and the council failed to provide an agenda for said meeting to "appropriately advertise."
Three days following the complaint, the council responded stating they did in fact issue a notice of the meeting five days prior, but acknowledged the fact they did not include an agenda. The AG's summary of the filings states that the council dedicated much of their response to disputing Connelly's proposed remedy, arguing actions having taken place in the meeting, need not be voided.
"The one complaint that was filed on behalf of the public's access to public meetings being restricted through thoughtless and lackadaisical adherence to procedure," Connelly said. "Our elected government derives all its power from the people it represents and a careless approach to open meeting procedures undermines the necessary requirement of public engagement in the resolution of business."
Throughout the month of November, both parties debated and appealed decisions regarding whether or not a quorum was present at the special meeting, which would have constituted it as a regular council meeting potentially violating KRS 61.810(1).
Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley told The Register after the complaints were received in his office, then City Administrator Randy Stone asked the city attorney Jerry Gilbert to review the case from top to bottom due to the "seriousness of the allegations."
In regards to whether or not the special called finance committee was a "regular council meeting" with a quorum present, the mayor stated it was not and there was no violation, and "no secret meetings going on."
For the second alleged violation about the lack of an agenda being posted, Mayor Fraley said the meeting was announced and posted with the date, place and time, but that an agenda was omitted from the posting.
"You have got to have all of them," the mayor said. "We have to make sure we include all four elements in our postings going forward. (The city) agreed there was no agenda included."
Attorney General Andy Beshear's office agreed with the mayor, stating that there was insufficient evidence to support that the special committee meeting was not a council meeting.
"Accordingly, we find that the January, 7 2019 Committee meeting was not a council meeting held in violation of the Act," the ruling reads.
And while additional members of the council were at the special meeting that were not on the finance committee, the AG finds that "nothing in the act categorically prohibits members of a public agency from attending a public meeting of a committee to which they do not belong."
The attorney general's office did caution while it is possible to imagine a scenario where members may use such attendance as a subterfuge to evade the notice requirements of the KRS, they found no evidence of such intent in the city's case.
However, a violation was found for the special called committee meeting stating the notices were insufficient because they lacked an agenda.
"The Council conceded that the emailed special meeting notice lacked an agenda, therefore violating the content requirements of KRS 61.823(3)," the document reads. "However, the City Clerk stated that she posted the same email at the location of the special meeting. As such, we find that the Council violated KRS 61.823(4)(c) by posting a special meeting notice that was inadequate due to the lack of an agenda."
The AG's office declined to address issues relating to the remedies.
The decision can appeal it by initiating action in circuit court pursuant to KRS 61.846(4)(a).
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.