April 19, 2013

• Two illegal meetings cited

• ‘Your Duty Under the Law’ assignment

• Spring Ad Seminar or Just Awards Luncheon?

• Question(s) of the Week on Public Notices

TWO RULINGS ON ILLEGAL SESSIONS

Two rulings came this week — one in circuit court, one by the Attorney General — that public agencies have violated the State’s Open Meetings Law.

In Boyle Circuit Court, a judge ruled Thursday that the Danville City Commission held an illegal session and in the much-publicized Murray State University situation, an AG’s ruling on Wednesday said the Board of Regents violated the law by discussing the MSU President’s situation the night before the board’s official meeting.

From the Danville Advocate Messenger:

By TODD KLEFFMAN

tkleffman@amnews.com

Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler ruled this afternoon that Danville City Commission did take final action during a July executive session in which it decided to bid on the BISCO building at a public auction, a violation of the state open meetings law.

The city had filed a lawsuit against The Advocate-Messenger seeking to overturn a state Attorney General’s opinion that sided with the newspaper’s claim that the decision to purchase the BISCO building was illegally made in a closed-door session.

“It certainly sounds like an action that I would classify as an official final action,” Peckler said during the hearing, after which he granted the newspaper’s motion for a summary judgment dismissing the case.

City Attorney Steven Dexter said afterward he was disappointed in Peckler’s ruling and he expects the City Commission to appeal the decision.

In the Murray State situation:

The Paducah Sun, according to the Associated Press, reports the ruling on Wednesday came in response to a complaint filed by attorney Jim Deckard.

The day after the gathering, the board met and voted 7-4 against renewing the contract of University President Randy Dunn.

The Attorney General’s opinion did not address Deckard’s claim that votes at the meeting should be declared null and void. Media law attorney Jon Fleischaker says it would be up to a court to make that determination if a lawsuit is filed.

“It’s not a crime, but I think it appropriately raises questions about how the board is behaving,” said Jon Fleischaker, a Louisville-based media law attorney.

The ruling says there is dispute about how much the social gathering on March 14 was tied to the vote on March 15, so the office was unable to resolve the issue. However, it says “unrefuted evidence of record, namely the publicly available statement of the Board Chairman, establishes not only that a quorum of the Board was present on March 14 but also that public business was discussed. The Act ‘prohibits a quorum from discussing public business in private or meeting in number less than a quorum for the express purpose of avoiding the meetings requirement of the Act.’”

Local prosecutor Mark Blankenship says an attorney general’s opinion doesn’t have the force of law.

Susan Guess, one of six regents who attended the March 14 gathering, said Wednesday that she was unaware the social gathering violated the open meetings law and will recommend regents take training to assure that another violation doesn’t happen.

Board chairman Constantine Curris did not return a call for comment on Wednesday, but has previously said the contract vote did not come up during the social gathering. He has offered to discuss the topics that were brought up at the social gathering during the board’s May 10 meeting.

SO WHY DIDN’T YOU READ ‘YOUR DUTY UNDER THE LAW’?

Susan Guess’ comment that she “was unaware the social gathering violating the open meetings law” and is going to recommend training for the regents is inexcusable.

All public officials, within 90 days of being appointed to a position or 90 days from an election, are to receive and sign for a copy of “Your Duty Under the Law.” This is a publication of the Attorney General’s Office that is required by state law. The head of each public agency is to give a copy to each public official, and university presidents are specifically mentioned. And the public official is to sign a form, verifying he/she has received a copy.

The fault in the law, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Graham and made law in 2005, is that we cannot force them to read the document. And those groups representing public agencies fought the idea that instead of the printed copy, training must be held and made mandatory for those new officials, appointed or elected.

So I guess Ms. Guess didn’t bother to read the AG’s publication. Or maybe the chair of the Board of Regents or the university president didn’t comply with the law by giving her a copy and having her sign that she had received it.

AND IT’S REQUIRED BY KRS 15.257

Here’s the statute requiring this publication:

(1) The Office of the Attorney General shall, within ninety (90) days of June 20, 2005, and thereafter, within ninety (90) days of the effective date of any legislation amending the provisions of the Open Meetings Act or the Open Records Act, distribute to all county judge/executives, mayors, county attorneys, city attorneys, superintendents of public school districts, presidents of each of the state public postsecondary education institutions identified in KRS 161.220(4)(b) or 164.001(13) or (17), and attorneys of public school districts and public postsecondary education institutions throughout Kentucky written information prepared by the Office of the Attorney General that explains the procedural and substantive provisions of the Open Meetings Act, KRS 61.805 to 61.850, and the Open Records Act, KRS 61.870 to 61.884, together with the information required by KRS 171.223 to be prepared by the Department for Libraries and Archives concerning proper retention and management of public records. This distribution may be by electronic means.

(2) All superintendents of public school districts and the presidents of each of the state public postsecondary education institutions identified in KRS 161.220(4)(b) or 164.001(13) or (17) shall be responsible for designating and submitting the names and addresses of the attorneys to whom this information shall be disseminated to the Office of the Attorney General.

SO THE ASSIGNMENT FOR EACH NEWSROOM IS…

Frequently, like the situation in Scott County where employees are paid for taking an hour’s lunch, I suggest you make contact with local public agencies to see if they’re abiding by state laws or if they have inane policies like the Scott County one.

And 99 percent of you probably don’t do it or don’t take the time.

Well, here’s your next assignment: Contact two or three of the local public agency heads as identified in KRS 15.257 and submit an Open Records request for the signed documents from public agency officials that they have received the copy of Your Duty Under the Law.

And then, after you publish a story about compliance with the law, let me know the results.

The reason? This session we faced legislation that would change the timeline from 90 days after the election to 90 days after the person takes office. That law didn’t make it through the process. Those supporting the law stated that it was cumbersome, that there were situations where a lame duck official, voted out of office or leaving office on their own accord, didn’t take the time to make the publication available to newly elected officials.

Information from you could have been vital to stopping this legislation and perhaps we could have stated, “Public officials are not complying with the law in the first place.” Thankfully, there was no support for it so the law you read above has not been changed.

INTERNSHIPS ARE FILLED…MAYBE

For the first time in a long time, every newspaper acting as a Host Newspaper for the KPA summer internship program has filled its intern position. Well, maybe.

Almost every year, since we started this program in 1993, one or two newspapers couldn’t find an intern, didn’t have time to complete the interview process, or something else happened that caused the newspaper to ask for a one-year delay in having an intern.

As of earlier this week, all 20 slots have been filled, technically. Then Wednesday night I received an email from one of the newspapers that its confirmed intern had accepted another position. That was their understanding and unless the intern reconsiders and keeps the internship, the newspaper will have to go back into the field and select another for this summer.

One thing college students need to learn is that committing to an internship and then backing out does not reflect well on the student. We’ve had a few that the day before they were to begin the 10-week internship, the student has notified the newspaper he/she has decided to do something else. By doing that, by backing out late in the process, it doesn’t only reflect on the student, it could keep another student who really needs the intern position from getting one.

AND WE’RE HOPING TO MAKE MORE SPOTS AVAILABLE

To be eligible to be a Host Newspaper, the newspaper has to be a participating member in the Statewide Classified Program. And then the newspaper is eligible to apply for an intern. This has been a very successful program and has been used as the model by some other state press associations.

In his acceptance speech as 2013 KPA President, Willie Sawyers said one of his goals this year is to increase funding to the journalism foundation and thus increase the number of internships. The Kentucky Journalism Foundation, a subsidiary of KPA, and the KPA Past Presidents oversee and operate the program.

We fund 20 internships each summer for newspapers and the students receive $3,000 for the 10-week internship, paid by KJF through the newspaper.

During a KPA Board meeting Thursday, Willie asked the Board for ideas on raising funds or how to increase the number of interns. One of the ways this year will be the Kentucky/Tennessee Press Association Border War golf outing. The proceeds from that golf tournament will be divided equally between the foundations operated by KPA and TPA (Tennessee Press Association). It could mean $10,000 each to the two foundations and that could fund three more intern positions.

Other ideas tossed out included a matching internship program where KPA/KJF puts up an amount for the intern and the newspaper has to match that amount to get an intern. Cutting the “salary” from $3,000 to $2,000 would mean the $60,000 designated would fund 30 internships, as opposed to the current 20. Any idea is worth considering with the ultimate goal being to provide more newspapers with interns and to give more interns “real world” experience that would encourage them to seek newspaper employment after graduation.

We’re still thinking of ideas. Have any? Share them with me and I’ll pass those along.

KSP MEDIA DAY IS THURSDAY, APRIL 25

Just a reminder that the Kentucky State Police media day will be Thursday, April 25, at KSP headquarters here in Frankfort. It begins at 10 a.m. and includes a luncheon. Deadline to notify KSP of your attendance is Tuesday, April 23.

Here’s the information, again:

MEDIA DAY WITH THE STATE POLICE

Contact: Trooper Michael B. Webb

Public Affairs Branch

Office: (502) 782-1780

Cell: (502) 226-0660

WHAT: An informational meeting and luncheon for members of the news media and the Kentucky State Police.

WHEN: April 25, 2013. Meeting: 10:00 a.m. – Luncheon Noon.

WHERE: KSP Headquarters – 919 Versailles Road, Frankfort 40601

WHO: Commissioner Rodney Brewer, executive staff, Public Affairs Officers, Public Affairs Branch staff and KSP webmaster.

WHY: KSP would like to invite our media partners to headquarters for a Media Day. Our agenda includes topics on what can and cannot be released by policy or law, open records requests and KSP website information. We are also seeking input from your organization on how we can better serve your needs. The meeting will be followed by a luncheon.

Please RSVP to Trooper Michael B. Webb at michaelb.webb@ky.gov by April 23 if you’re attending.

UPCOMING WEBINARS

Two more webinars are on the schedule from Online Media Campus, co-sponsored by KPA, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Iowa Newspaper Foundation.

Here’s the basic information with links to the OMC website for more information and to register.

May 9 Overcome Objections and Close More Sales
2-3 pm
Registration: $35
To avoid late fee, register by May 6.
For more information and to register at Online Media Campus:
http://www.onlinemediacampus.com/2013/03/objections/

May 10 What You Could Be Missing in Photoshop
2-3 pm
Registration: $35
To avoid late fee, register by May 7.
For more information and to register at Online Media Campus:
http://www.onlinemediacampus.com/2013/04/missing-photoshop/

SPRING AD SEMINAR OR JUST AWARDS PRESENTATION?

KPA Ad Division chair Helen Powers and KPA Vice President Rick Welch will be working on reviving the KPA Spring Ad Seminar, and piggyback that with the KPA Ad Contest awards presentation. The Board had a lengthy discussion Thursday on whether to just have staff deliver the awards to winning newspapers, to have a luncheon in two locations to hand out awards and then the discussion turned to the Spring Ad Seminar.

Attendance had dwindled at spring ad seminars after about 2007 to the point that KPA gave up on holding those and just having the awards presentations during a meal. Even that suffered in 2012 and staff toured the state to present the awards.

But the Board wants to give the Spring Ad Seminar and awards presentation another go so we’ll be developing that in hopes of attracting advertising staffs to participate. And we’re going to seek a well-known advertising speaker for this.

I’ll keep you informed as talks progress.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK:

Is it okay to publish a public notice in main news instead of the classified section and what rate do we charge?

Let’s handle the second part of that first. Because it’s spelled out in the law and even I can understand this.

“…publishers are entitled to receive payment based on seven-point type. The rate shall not exceed the lowest noncontract classified rate paid by advertisers. The terms and conditions of any volume discounts given to commercial customers shall be extended to public agencies of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Newspapers shall give all local public agencies a written notice of at least thirty (30) days of an advertising rate increase.”

So public notices should be set or billed based on seven-point type. If you set them larger than that, then you need to adjust the cost to reflect seven-point type. If the agency wants you to set it smaller, just show them that state law gives you the seven-point type basis. And again, it’s basically your open classified display rate. Period. If you give advertisers a prompt pay discount, you have to give public agencies the same privilege. If you give them a space-earned/volume-earned discount, you have to give public agencies the same privilege. If you have a “Legal Rate” or “Public Notice Rate” on your rate card that is not identical to your lowest classified display rate, then change. Technically, there is no such thing as a “legal rate” or “public notice rate.” That was done away with in 1982 legislation.

Now on to the first part of the question:

It basically is at the discretion of the public official. If the person in charge of placing the ad tells you to publish it in main news, then publish it in main news. And you can bill the agency for your local open inch rate if that is the case. I will agree that some public notices, such as the letter from the State Auditor on audits of local public agencies warrant publication in main news. So go for it.

When I was at the News and Times in Georgetown in the early 1980s, the State Auditor was Mary Ann Tobin. And she wanted the public to know her name and remember her come the next election.

When she placed the audit letters, we were instructed to print artwork of the Capitol dome three inches tall at the top of the ad and to run her name and position in 24 to 36 point type and in bold. Obviously, that wasted a lot of space. But it was at her direction that we did it and payment was based on the space the dome and her name took up since she ordered it that way.

I doubt you’ll find a public official wanting that done today but if one should tell you to set part of the ad “a lot bigger so people can read it,” you have every right under the law to do that. Just don’t take it upon yourself.

CALL THEM WHAT THEY ARE — PUBLIC NOTICES

Long ago, they were referred to as “legal notices,” because they are required by law. But I prefer to call them what they are — Public Notices. They are designed to notify the public, by a notice published in the newspaper, about what’s going on in their government at the local and the state level. So if you say “legal notices,” I hope you’ll practice using “Public Notice.”

Okay, with that, I’m going to end another week of the Friday Email. Next week’s will probably be a Thursday edition since the UK College of Communication Advisory Board is meeting Friday morning. So I’ll be there for that meeting and will have to finish this and send it Thursday night or very early Friday morning.

I’ll be out most of the day Tuesday, April 23, getting a temporary crown put on that morning (I just love dentists) and then attending the Journalism Hall of Fame luncheon at noon.

Other than Tuesday and Friday, I should be in the office so call, write, email, fax or stop by if you need anything. Otherwise, thanx!!

UPCOMING EVENTS:

April 23, 2013

12 Noon — Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon, The Thoroughbred Center, Paris Pike, Lexington

April 25, 2013

10 a.m. – Kentucky State Police Media Day for Editors/Reporters, KSP Headquarters Frankfort – (See invitation below)

May 8/May 9, 2013

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Health Care Reform Seminars (May 8/Lexington; May 9/Louisville) No charge to reporters; others pay $179 to $229 to attend

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