NewsCovering Kentucky

Actions

Attorney General says Fayette County Public Schools violated Open Records laws

Posted at 7:21 AM, Apr 22, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Fayette County Public Schools refused to comply with the Open Records law to give one of its own board members a document to review before he was forced to vote on it. The Attorney General's office issued a notice Monday explaining the District has 30 days to comply with the law.

The document Fayette County School Board Member Tyler Murphy wanted to see was a contract with a financial auditing firm for nearly half a million dollars of the District's budget.

"I wanted to see a little bit more. I wanted to understand how we had arrived at this decision. And I was not provided that material," explained Murphy.

Since the end of 2019, Murphy sounded the alarm for the lack of transparency surrounding the audit contracts. During a regular school board meeting on December 16, the contract came up for a vote and Murphy made his final plea.

"I would just like to see the contracts side by side, before I'm comfortable casting a vote because this is a five year commitment with a firm that we've been using for 14 years to conduct our auditing services," Murphy said. "And considering, you know, the audit strikes at the heart of one of our most important responsibilities, which is the financial management was District, I just want to make sure that I have all the information and to do my due-diligence and make a informed decision."

Minutes after he made the remark, the Board proceeded to vote on the contract without seeing a copy of it. The measure passed 3-2; Murphy voted 'no.'

In January, he decided to file an Open Records Request with the District for the contract. He said, "These are public documents they relate to tax dollars so they should be a matter of public record. So I filed an Open Records Request, and then that was stonewalled--it was denied and I had to appeal to the Attorney General's Office."

On Monday, Attorney General Daniel Cameron released a notice that he found Fayette County Public Schools "violated" and "subverted" the law.

Murphy said he never wanted to appeal to the Attorney General's Office but felt he had no choice.

He explained, "It goes back to a consistent message that I've been trying to make since arriving to the board and that is that we have an obligation to the people to be transparent to ensure that board members are informed when they cast votes and when they're asked to make decisions especially decisions of that magnitude."

FCPS responded to several questions from LEX 18 about Murphy's Open Records Request and the response from the Attorney General with one statement: "We certainly respect the Office of the Attorney General and will review the opinion and determine the next course of action."

Murphy explained the audit contract is part of a larger problem.

"We have two issues here one aspect is open records right the open Records Act, the Open Meetings Act, those are designed to protect the public's right to know, and people do have a right to know. But I also think there's a separate issue here and that is board members' right to know. No board member should be asked to make a decision of this magnitude, especially without seeing all of the relevant information," he said. "We need an environment we need a process that ensures that when a board member seeks information that they're provided that information, you know that that's how you establish this this working environment this collaborative environment that ensures your board is working as a team to adequately represent our constituents and make sure that we're supporting their priorities and goals of the District."

According to the Attorney General's Office, Fayette County Public Schools must comply to the Open Records Act by May 20.