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AG says E'town violated open records law

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City redacted information on accident reports

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office said Elizabethtown violated open records procedures by heavily redacting information on requested accident reports.

In a written decision, The Attorney General’s Office instructed the city to provide Capitol Radio Traffic Systems — which produces Spanish-language traffic report content, such as live traffic and news stories, for radio stations — with unredacted copies of accident reports the organization requested.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, Capitol Radio’s employees produce the content and have agreements to provide information to Spanish-language stations in several U.S. cities, including Boston, Indianapolis, Louisville, Miami, Nashville and Philadelphia.

The opinion said Elizabethtown is prohibited from redacting the reports by state law, and it failed to provide a “statutory basis for these substantial redactions.”

Capitol Radio issued an open records request on Dec. 10 asking for accident reports generated by the city from Dec. 2 to Dec. 9, in which the city agreed to provide copies at $5 per report plus cost of postage, according to the opinion.

“Those copies were heavily redacted, and the city offered no supporting statutory justification or explanation as required,” the decision stated.  

In response, Capitol Radio filed an appeal questioning the city’s compliance with the state’s Open Records Act.

According to the opinion, Elizabethtown officials questioned the validity of Capitol Radio’s status as a news gathering organization and expressed reluctance in providing unredacted copies of reports with personal information.

City Attorney D. Dee Shaw said Capitol Radio’s online presence is “unprofessional” and she believes the requests were made so the organization could sell the information to others, such as attorneys and chiropractors, for profit.

“I don’t know how anyone can say they’re a legitimate news organization,” she said.

Mayor Tim Walker said the personal information redacted on the reports was personal in nature, such as names and addresses, and were made because the city was unsure of Capitol Radio’s viability as a news outlet.

“It’s questionable the credentials we have received,” he said.

The News-Enterprise could not reach representatives from Capitol Radio for comment.

In a February decision, the Attorney General’s Office made a determination that Capitol Radio was a legitimate news organization after the city of Newport declined to release accident reports to the organization.

In that decision, the Attorney General’s Office noted Capitol Radio’s argument that it provides information to radio stations in its networks, which these stations broadcast, comparing itself to the Associated Press or Reuters.

In both opinions, the Attorney General stated that Capitol Radio is a news gathering organization as defined by state law and both Elizabethtown and Newport acted improperly in withholding the information.

The Attorney General also stated in the opinion that it is the obligation of the parties involved to determine the intended use of the reports.

KRS 189.635 (8) states that accident reports shall be made available to a “news-gathering organization, solely for the purpose of publishing or broadcasting the news. The news-gathering organization shall not use or distribute the report, or knowingly allow its use or distribution, for a commercial purpose other than the news-gathering organization's publication or broadcasting of the information in the report.”

The Attorney General stated that if the intended purpose is noncommercial use, the organization should be provided unredacted copies of the reports. If the use is found to be commercial, then the city has the right to restrict the information, though Capitol Radio could appeal, according to the decision.

Walker said the city will comply if Capitol Radio is verified as a real news source.

“We don’t want to hold anything back,” he said.

A decision on open records or open meetings violations rendered by the Attorney General carries the force of law and can be enforced in circuit court if an appeal is not filed within 30 days.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.