Terri at city commission

KCDC President/CEO Terri Bradshaw is pictured above addressing the Frankfort City Commission as the commission was voting to cut her organization's funding. (Austin Horn | The State Journal)

The City of Frankfort violated state open records law when it withheld communications between its board of commissioners and Kentucky Capital Development Corporation (KCDC) President/CEO Terri Bradshaw, according to a recent ruling from Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office.

Bradshaw began the correspondence on July 6 when she sent a 13-page letter to Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson and Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells.

The letter detailed “retaliation and personal attacks” by other local officials and political participants against her in her capacity as the head of the city-county economic development agency. 

The letter, emailed with the subject line “discrimination complaint,” also complains of instances in which Bradshaw believes she was done wrong because of her gender. She said she is not alone in facing what she called a “toxic culture and long history of dismissiveness, harassment, discrimination and bullying that infiltrates the community” against women in important local positions.

“The hostility and threats of many city/county elected officials as well as local citizens who are encouraged by the elected officials, have turned this previously productive workplace into a toxic environment,” Bradshaw wrote in an email attached to her letter. “... This conduct has been long-lasting and pervasive and has created an environment where it is impossible to do our jobs here at KCDC, and for our board members to perform effectively as a board.”

Of late, Bradshaw’s organization has caught flack publicly from both city and county elected officials, which was reflected in both bodies’ funding decisions for the organization. Over the last two years, the city and county have decreased their annual funding of KCDC from $230,000 to $170,000.

It also has continued to meet since the succeeding resignations of three of its six total members — all city appointees — despite both city and county attorneys saying that the group, so diminished, does not have a quorum to legally meet. Wilkerson has had both the applicants and the discretion to appoint new members to fill those spots in several months, but has not done so.

In the city’s response to Bradshaw’s letter, dated  July 12, the mayor wrote that the city believes “litigation is a possibility,” and that the city “does not tolerate” discrimination.

“The City also understands from your letter that litigation is a possibility, and that the action you have requested is that the activities that you have described stop immediately,” City Attorney Laura Ross said. “Please be assured that the City of Frankfort does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and the Board of Commissioners is committed to upholding this principle.”

The letter is mostly anecdotes in which Bradshaw recounts local people allegedly working against her and KCDC. It mostly centers around what Bradshaw paints as an antagonistic relationship with members of the city commission, county magistrates and former Mayor Bill May, among others.

The State Journal has elected not to publish the full contents of Bradshaw’s letter at this time pending further review of its allegations.

However, Bradshaw’s full letter is a public document housed at City Hall, and The State Journal has posted online a copy of the opening several paragraphs and closing of her letter, as well as quotations from several selections in this article.

Bradshaw told The State Journal she could not comment on the record about the letter or its allegations.

Why did the city withhold it?

The city denied The State Journal access to Bradshaw’s letter this summer for several reasons. It claimed that Bradshaw, despite sending it from her KCDC email account, did not send the letter in her “official capacity;" it also claimed that the letter contained information of a “personal nature” that would be an invasion of privacy and that the correspondence is “preliminary.”

Assistant Attorney General Marc Manley, in an opinion prompted by a State Journal appeal of the city's decision to withhold it, largely disagreed.

“The content of the letter is almost entirely about official acts taken, or experienced, by the CEO in her capacity as CEO and by other public officials,” Manley wrote. “Moreover, and significant to this Office’s conclusion, is that the complainant did send the letter via official channels. Specifically, the letter was attached to an email sent by the CEO from her official KCDC email account.”

The more sensitive content, which the city argued would be an invasion of privacy, was provided to The State Journal with names redacted. That includes two instances in which Bradshaw says that she received anonymous mail with photoshopped pornographic images of two individuals, whose names are redacted, and another instance of someone in a letter to KCDC accusing two people of sexually molesting children.

“Having reviewed the correspondence, this Office can confirm that certain portions of the letter moved beyond complaints of alleged discrimination that the CEO claims to have experienced and into the realm of accusations of serious criminal conduct,” Manley wrote. “The best way to preserve the personal privacy rights of the individuals who are the subject of these accusations, and which no evidence in this record can verify, is to redact the names of those individuals.”

Previously, Dennis Murrell of Middleton Reutlinger law firm in Louisville, an attorney for someone referenced in the letter, told The State Journal in a letter that publication of the material in Bradshaw's letter would be considered defamatory by his client. The attorney did not identify his client.

Murrell has not responded to a State Journal request for comment.

Amye Bensenhaver, an open government advocate who served as an assistant attorney general under six Kentucky attorneys general, said that while she appreciates the fact that the email was treated as public record, she remains "concerned" that one of the deciding factors was that Bradshaw used her public email.

"Regardless of whether it is transmitted on public agency letterhead or a plain piece of paper, using an agency title or no title, or on a public or a private email account, under these circumstances it is a public record because it relates to public business," Bensenhaver wrote. "A public agency employee or official cannot sidestep the open records law by eliminating the typical earmarks of a public record as the city argued here."

What’s in the letter?

The letter begins with an overview of Bradshaw’s gripe against the aforementioned “toxic” culture in Frankfort and Franklin County. She tells the entire fiscal court and city commission that she has previously sent many reports of “a hostile work environment, retaliation, slander, liable, harassment and stalking,” with no response from them.

Echoing previously expressed frustration about a lack of direction from elected bodies, she further stated that she had never heard from elected officials regarding specific criticisms of her or KCDC’s work before this past budget cycle — and she called recent criticisms from the fiscal court untrue.

“I provide them with a Strategic Plan from which we work daily and a 50-page Annual Report that tracks the activities and accomplishments of KCDC in accordance with that Strategic Plan,” Bradshaw wrote. “I provide a 5-6 page monthly report on my activities and I provide the KCDC Board of Directors a report of daily activities by hour. Members of the elected bodies have recently complained that I am not being held accountable, yet there is not another department head or organization that provides near this amount of information and transparency... nor are they required to.”

The alleged 50 instances that paint a picture of discrimination include several dated anecdotes ranging as far back as November 2017. Bradshaw began her role at KCDC in 2015. In log-style format, the instances range from secondhand accounts of conversations disparaging her and KCDC, to public comments and documents speaking against the organization’s actions, to generally chronicling moments related to her organization.

Some, but not most, of the anecdotes contain plainly discriminatory components.

Bradshaw says that in 2018 a former Franklin County magistrate asked her why she thought she was “worth more than the other women who worked for the county.” She also states that the men that filled her role before her made more money and received less stellar evaluations from their board. Aside from those references, she primarily focuses on anecdotes that portray a combative, deceptive and toxic local political environment.

Bradshaw opens her list focusing primarily on the Frankfort Plant Board, which at the time was embroiled in a controversy in which she played a part. She details various conversations that she had with those involved in local business and politics, and is generally critical of May, who left the mayor's office this year after five terms in the post. 

At the time, Bradshaw and May openly clashed over FPB affairs, including the appointment of former Director Jeff Bradshaw, who is not related to the KCDC executive. The appointment became a heavily politicized process at the municipal utility, which was at the time facing criticism for its plan to replace the Tanglewood reservoir. 

In more recent matters, Terri Bradshaw fully recounted budget cuts to her organization over the past two years.

She characterized the Franklin County Fiscal Court, and the city commission’s, eventual decisions as ill-informed. Bradshaw says that comments made by Magistrates Michael Mueller, J.W. Blackburn, Sherry Sebastian and Marti Booth about her work product at a meeting this May were untrue.

“Not a single statement they made was based on fact, and, in actuality, there are numerous emails and comments from the projects we are working to the contrary,” Bradshaw wrote. “But the court and city commission, at no point, are held accountable when making statements that are not true.”

Generally, the letter is critical of May and the above mentioned magistrates. It is also critical of citizen Jim Daniel, who along with James Inman was one of two authors of a letter sent to elected officials critical of Bradshaw.

The anecdotes also describe the game of telephone surrounding the city commission’s alleged rolling quorum in the lead up to the controversial firing of former City Manager Keith Parker in August 2020. The state attorney general, responding to a State Journal complaint, ruled that the city engaged in “prohibited conduct,” yet did not break open meetings law because there wasn’t evidence that they intended to break the law.

The letter ends with a reiteration of one of Bradshaw’s primary complaints: that her work has been “attacked” without much in the way of feedback from elected officials.

“I have sent hundreds of emails to elected officials (I have exact numbers and copies of every email sent and received from each commissioner and magistrate) with little or no response. And NEVER, not one time, has any elected official expressed any negative feedback about the activities of KCDC or my performance, until recently when they decided to do that in public meetings,” Bradshaw wrote. “...I have spent 40 years building a professional reputation of respect, transparency and hard work and will no longer sit idly by, while the elected officials for whom I work try to discredit me based on lies.”

Editor's Note: The author and Amye Bensenhaver both serve on the board of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.

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