At the Frankfort City Commission’s July 12 meeting, after spending an hour and a half in closed session, the board voted unanimously to send a letter to Kentucky Capital Development Corp. President/CEO Terri Bradshaw.
Neither the letter nor Bradshaw’s message to which it responded has been made public despite State Journal open records requests to the city and KCDC.
It is unclear what the letters contain.
The State Journal plans to appeal both organizations’ decisions to withhold the records to the state attorney general.
Further, an attorney representing an unnamed person who claims to be considering legal action against Bradshaw sent a letter to The State Journal acknowledging the newspaper’s open records request four days after the request was filed. The letter, from Dennis Murrell of Middleton Reutlinger law firm in Louisville, claims that publication of those records would be defamatory to the client.
“Any publication and/or release of any nature related to these false allegations would be defamatory and cause significant harm to our client,” Murrell wrote. “Our client is strongly considering legal action against Ms. Bradshaw and would consider any attempts to disseminate her false allegations as part and parcel to her effort to defame our client.”
Though KCDC’s attorney has yet to officially respond to the newspaper’s open records request, Bradshaw has denied disclosure of her letter because she says she sent it in her capacity as a private citizen.
In City Clerk Chermie Maxwell’s response to the newspaper, she echoed that point and added that it’s the city’s position that the material contained in either the Bradshaw letter or the city’s response constitutes information of a “personal nature” that would be an invasion of privacy and that the correspondence is “preliminary.”
Amye Bensenhaver, a retired assistant attorney general who wrote open records and open meetings opinions for 25 years, doesdn’t believe the records are exempt from disclosure requirements.
“Neither the city nor Bradshaw can evade the open records law by simply asserting that the communications were made by Bradshaw — and received by the city — in her private capacity,” Bensenhaver said. “... Regardless of how 'inconvenient or embarrassing' those communications are, they do not qualify under the exception for 'correspondence with a private individual' simply because Bradshaw claims to be communicating privately.
“Were it otherwise, every public official would do so, and the open records law would be a nullity.”
She also said that she thinks the city’s communications don’t qualify as preliminary documents because it gives no indication as to what final action they are preliminary. She called the city’s response, and Murrell’s letter, “vague.”
KCDC has recently undergone a season of tumult.
Starting on June 1 with former board Chair Houston Barber, all three city appointees to KCDC have resigned.
KCDC’s funding has been drastically reduced over the past two years by local governments.
A majority of both elected bodies supported cuts to KCDC’s funding this fiscal year, with the Franklin County Fiscal Court split 4-3 on a vote to cut funding by $15,000 for the second year in a row and nobody on the five-member city commission speaking against the city’s $30,000 cut.
The fiscal court's cuts were in part informed by a letter written by Jim Daniel and James Inman, allegedly on behalf of a group of “concerned citizens,” highly critical of Bradshaw. In response to the letter and the cuts, business leaders took out an ad in The State Journal defending KCDC's mission and the quality of Bradshaw's work.
Frankfort Mayor Layne Wilkerson and Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells both said that both bodies plan to meet on Aug. 18 at 4:00 p.m. to discuss the city and county's economic development strategies, including the role that KCDC and similar agencies play.
The author and Amye Bensenhaver are both on the board of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.