For the second time in as many weeks, a Jessamine County government body has been found to be in violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act, according to an opinion released by the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
However, Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goettl contests the most recent opinion and said “the attorney general’s opinion is nonsensical.”
The opinion was released Aug. 16 and states Jessamine County Fiscal Court was in violation by partially denying a request from former EMS employee Andrew Wood.
Wood requested multiple documents including any records of his employment hearing; emails and memorandums regarding himself, Tina Griggs and EMS director Jerry Domidion; and also any disciplinary actions concerning paramedic Christie Weifenbaugh.
Wood received no response to the request made May 24; presuming it was a denial, he initiated an appeal June 4. The appeal to the OAG included the May 24 letter as well as a fax confirmation stamped with the same date.
The county attorney’s office, however, claims it never received an open-records request and was not aware of Wood’s request until it received the appeal from the OAG asking for their response. Upon receiving notification of the appeal, assistant Jessamine County attorney Joseph Allison responded on behalf of the fiscal court, explaining that upon reviewing the office files, he did not locate a copy of the open-records request.
“On the one hand, (the OAG) writes they are unable to determine whether or not the open-records request was received,” Goettl said. “On the other hand, it says that we have violated it — you can’t violate something you haven’t received.”
In the county attorney’s office reply to the OAG, it contended at least eight open-records requests Wood had filed since his prior employment appeal (Jan. 20) could be considered “intended to disrupt other essential functions of the public agency.” Wood also recently filed a lawsuit against the county. Allison contended the records in dispute can be accessed by Wood through discovery in his lawsuit for wrongful termination.
“It is clear from our interactions with the requester that these ‘Open Records Requests’ are not being made for a legitimate purpose,” Allison wrote to the OAG. “They may be made out of a general desire to avoid the time and expense of conducting legitimate discovery in an ongoing case by seeking to compel our office to discovery under the guise of an ‘Open Records Request.’”
The OAG disagreed, stating in its opinion that a request must be evaluated independently of whether a requester is a party to litigation or not. In its final verdict, the OAG stated the Jessamine County Fiscal Court failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that Wood’s request would unreasonably burden the agency.
“The AG’s office said we didn’t present clear and convincing evidence for the legal issues that we raise, which is impractical for us to do in a legal brief,” Goettl said. “Evidence is developed in hearings before a judge — it requires testimony and so forth — and that’s if we determine to take it before the circuit court.”
Goettl said his office has not decided on a plan of action but in the past he has fought an OAG’s opinion in circuit court and prevailed. For now, though, Goettl said he will discuss the situation with the fiscal court.
Wood is no stranger to conflict with the fiscal court. His current lawsuit claims he suffered retaliation for his support of a sexual-harassment claim against Domidion by Griggs, a former EMS employee.
Wood’s wife, Amanda, is still an employee of Jessamine County EMS, and she recently received the tapes she requested after the OAG gave an opinion that Jessamine County E-911 violated the Open Records Act by withholding recordings of 911 calls relating to a February traffic accident involving the ambulance she was assigned to.
E-911 made the tapes available three days after the decision by the OAG earlier this month.