In light of concerns raised during the Martin City Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, we thought it may be helpful for us to let the public know, according to Kentucky Open Meetings laws, they have the right to observe the public meetings of any local government body and they have the right to file a complaint when they feel their right to observe a public meeting has been violated.
Kentucky law does not give members of the public the right to comment during public meetings — that right is up to the local government body to decide — but it does specifically detail the ways in which local government bodies are required to make a reasonable effort in good faith to provide a place where the public can effectively observe a public meeting.
In light of that conversation and suggestion that Martin will not attempt to accommodate the crowd it should expect to see on Jan. 31, if a special meeting is called, we thought it might be helpful for the people who were denied access to the Jan. 22 meeting to know that they have the right to file an open meetings complaint if they feel they are denied access to any public meeting.
KRS 61.820 (1) states: “All meetings of all public agencies of this state, and any committees or subcommittees thereof, shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient to the public. In considering locations for public meetings, the agency shall evaluate space requirements, seating capacity, and acoustics.”
The Kentucky Attorney General has ruled in numerous cases in which Kentucky Open Meetings law violations were alleged by people who claimed they, or others, could not effectively observe or hear a public meeting because of inappropriate accommodations. On June 14, 2018, that office highlighted several of those rulings in 18-OMD-118, which states, in part, “The mere fact that ‘numerous citizens were not able to enter’ the meeting room due to overcrowding ‘and observed the proceedings from the hallway’ does not per se establish ‘that persons wishing to attend or participate in the proceeding were effectively prevented from doing so.’ In 97-ORD-28, however, the office held that a public agency confronted with a crowd that is larger than anticipated is “under a duty to make some attempt to correct the matter.”
Floyd County residents who feel any public agency has violated its duties or their rights under the Open Meetings Act may submit an Open Meetings Act complaint to the presiding officer of that public agency, namely, the city/county clerk and/or secretary of that agency.
Open meetings complaints should specifically describe what the agency did to violate the open meetings law and it should also propose a remedy for the violation.
Open meetings complaints can cite state law, prior attorney general opinions, statements made, recordings of, or articles about the public meeting to validate allegations that there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
People who decide to file such complaints with any public agency should keep a copy of the complaint for themselves to use if the complaint is denied by the public agency.
State law gives public agencies three working days to respond to open meeting complaints, and on the third working day, the agency must issue a written response to the person who filed the complaint or request, explaining whether it agrees that violation occurred and whether it will take steps to remedy it. If that agency claims a violation did not occur, it must cite state laws supporting its denial that a violation occurred.
If the person who filed the complaint is not satisfied by the written response, he or she then has the right to file an appeal with the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.
All of these rights are defined online by that office at, www.ag.ky.gov.