In response to consideration of a policy that could prohibit city commissioners from disclosing the contents of closed sessions, the Bluegrass Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) released a statement objecting to any such provision.
President of the Bluegrass SPJ Tom Eblen and Secretary Al Cross, a Frankfort resident, issued the statement Sunday in response to discussion at a Wednesday commission meeting, with some commissioners and the mayor appearing to agree on the need for an ethics code provision prohibiting participants from publicly disclosing the content of closed sessions.
“Public-agency members should be free to speak about such meetings without fear of official retribution,” Eblen and Cross wrote. “In the absence of journalists and others who act as watchdogs on government activities, public-agency members are the only available watchdogs, on themselves … . Such whistleblowers should not be subject to official retribution, which appears to be the plan in Frankfort.”
The discussion came in response to Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge's sharing what happened at a closed session on Aug. 10 before the commission voted 3-2 in open session to fire City Manager Keith Parker “without cause.” Waldridge said she supported a State Journal open meetings complaint against the city. The newspaper's complaint asserted that discussions by elected officials before the meeting constituted a "rolling quorum" under the open meetings law.
May said that he believes Waldridge likely violated a commission directive. The commission came out of closed session and voted, with Waldridge opposed, to keep the closed session information confidential.
In explaining the Aug. 10 directive, May said that violating it had no real repercussions. That could change if the commission passes an ordinance, resolution or any other policy.
May said that he and others had discussed writing a “letter of censure” of Waldridge, but decided that exploring a written policy would be better.
In response to criticism by the SPJ, May said that he doesn’t want to make the potential policy about limiting “whistleblowers.”
“I don’t think I’m supportive of any type policy that would prevent any member of the Board of Commissioners from disclosing anything that would be considered improper or illegal,” May said. “What I would support is not talking about personnel issues when they’re done in the proper format … . It’s not about trying to go after a member of the commission; it’s about trying to protect the city.”
It’s unclear what form such a policy would take and what the exceptions to it would be. May said that discussion at the commission’s meeting on Monday would not involve an action item.
The SPJ’s Bluegrass chapter made clear that it opposes any such restrictions.
“(We) ask the Frankfort city commission to forget this ill-advised notion – which would surely cost taxpayers for the defense of a lawsuit the city is likely to lose – and pay attention to the open-meetings law,” Eblen and Cross wrote.