Louisville airport agency broke Ky. 'sunshine' law in denying police records, Beshear rules
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Louisville Regional Airport Authority violated the state’s open records law by denying public access to personnel files of airport police officers, Kentucky’s attorney general has ruled in a decision that also reverses a 16-year-old policy allowing those records to be secret.
WDRB News had appealed to Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office in April after airport officials withheld copies of personnel files, including disciplinary records and separation letters, for two former officers no longer with the department.
In denying the files, the airport agency cited a 2002 opinion from then-Attorney General Ben Chandler that determined that federal security regulations require a wide range of airport police officers’ records to be kept confidential.
But the June 20 ruling by Beshear and Assistant Attorney General Gordon Slone found that the airport authority – a public agency whose board is appointed by Kentucky’s governor and Louisville’s mayor – did not justify how it applied the federal laws.
The airport authority also had raised privacy concerns about releasing the information, but the attorney general’s office refuted that argument in its ruling.
“Our review of the records at issue revealed that a large quantity of the information contained therein is not information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy if it were publicly disclosed,” Beshear and Slone wrote.
They also overruled their office’s 2002 ruling, noting that it occurred not long after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, “when erring on a broad interpretation of federal laws governing airport security was understandably at its greatest. With the passage of time, we can now place that deference in a more reasoned and experienced context.”
The change is meant to strictly follow state law and show a “continuing commitment to the statement of legislative policy declaring that ‘free and open examination of public records is in the public interest,’” they wrote.
The airport authority was reviewing the ruling on Monday and did not immediately comment in detail, including if it plans to release the records or file a lawsuit against WDRB to keep the documents private.
"Once we have had an opportunity to thoroughly review this decision, we will then make a determination on next steps for the Airport Authority,” Brenda Allen, the agency's vice president of legal affairs and corporate culture, said in a statement.
The attorney general’s ruling could have broader implications.
Airport boards for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky., and Blue Grass Airport in Lexington also pointed to Chandler’s 2002 decision in denying officers’ personnel files requested earlier this year by WDRB under the state open records law.
The airport authorities in Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky are among hundreds of so-called special purpose government entities that are overseen by appointed officials and have the power to levy taxes or fees or spend public funds.
In February, WDRB began requesting information about an investigation that airport officials have confirmed is ongoing. It is unclear what the probe entails or who it involves.
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