Louisville Water Company officials accused of using private devi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville Water Company officials accused of using private devices to conduct public business

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A former general counsel for the Louisville Water Company is claiming the city-owned utility's CEO and former chief financial officer used personal text messages and other electronic communication to conduct public business.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's office has been asked to decide whether the water company has to turn over those private communications.

Barbara Dickens and her attorney, Scott Dickens, requested from the water company communications sent or received on personal electronic devices from January 2014 through May between CEO James Brammell and Amber Halloran, who left the company in March.

Dickens, who quit in May, also asked for all communication between Brammell, Halloran and vice-presidents David Vogel and Ed Chestnut pertaining to her, according to correspondence obtained by WDRB News.

The water company declined to turn over specific e-mails between Brammell and Halloran because they were sent from private devices and are not in LWC's possession, according to the records.

On Oct. 7, Dickens appealed the denial to Conway's office, arguing that there is no exception to the Kentucky Open Records Act for public records stored on personal electronic devices.

"The executive officers, in particular, of a public agency cannot be allowed, by use of personal devices, to shield from the public their communications regarding the operations and employees of the agency," Scott Dickens wrote in his appeal.

A ruling by the attorney general would help clear up whether public officials can skirt the open records law and avoid having to turn over business communication that are sent on private accounts.

Water company spokeswoman Kelley Dearing Smith said the utility turned over thousands of pages of documents to Barbara Dickens and provided everything but information on private cell phones, which she said was not used for public business.

And the company doesn't have access to those records.

"They are private cell phones," she said. "We can't ask an employee to turn in their cell phone."

Leland Hulbert, a spokesman with the attorney general's office, said a decision is due November 9th "but, as with any appeal, there is a possibility an extension of time could be requested."

Earlier this year, The Courier-Journal reported, a former Metropolitan Sewer District chairman appealed the same issue to the Attorney General, claiming officials were using private accounts to conduct public business.

But the issue was dropped, according to the newspaper, after the former chairman withdrew his appeal.

On Feb. 23, Mayor Greg Fischer announced that every citizen serving on a board or commission will be issued an e-mail address and instructed to  conduct official government business from it, in order to comply with the open records law.

"This addresses concerns of board members using personal accounts for public business and will result in greater transparency for citizens," Fischer said in a press release.

Fischer said in the press release then that Louisville has about 100 boards and commissions with more than 800 mayoral appointees including business and economic development, land planning, parks and recreation, public health and public safety.

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