It was fitting that Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg's May 25 press conference to announce Louisville Metro open records reforms was conducted on the portico of the Brandeis School of Law.
After all, it was United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis -- a Louisville native interred beneath the law school portico -- who famously wrote that "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."
Brandeis lamented “the wickedness of people shielding wrongdoers and passing them off (or at least allowing them to pass themselves off) as honest men.” As a remedy, he proposed:
“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”
With this principle in mind, Greenberg announced four concrete reforms aimed at improving what has been -- by all accounts -- a dark period for open records in Louisville Metro Government.
Today’s announcement follows the April 27 news that Greenberg has "allocated $475,100 to create a new Department of Records Compliance, including six new positions to handle open records requests."
The Kentucky Open Government Coalition applauded the news that Greenberg was putting monetary action to his campaign words by budgeting for an expanded open records staff, but we suggested that more could be done.
Specifically, we proposed:
"Not just any training.
"Not just the nuts and bolts of Kentucky’s open records law but training aimed at instilling in Metro Government officials and employees an appreciation for the value of the law."
A change in enterprise culture comes only with a change in officials' and employees' attitudes.
We were gratified to learn that one component of the Greenberg open records reform plan focuses on training.
At today’s press conference, the mayor announced the reorganization of the Metro Government Department of Records Compliance as a new standalone division.
Additionally, he announced:
• All open records functions within Louisville Metro Government will be independent from the Office of Management and Budget and under a director who will report directly to Deputy Mayor Dana Mayton.
The new independent department will serve as a single point of contact and apply a uniform, streamlined process for all open records requests made of the Mayor's Office and all Metro agencies, including the Louisville Metro Police Department.
• Pending Metro Council approval, Metro will hire six new full-time staffers to help coordinate and support the open records response process and eliminate the backlog ot untulfilled requests.
• Metro will provide new uniform and up-to-date training government-wide to ensure employees are aware of and correctly adhere to Kentucky's open records laws, especially regarding emerging technologies.
In his remarks, Greenberg expressed the hope that this “assistance, support and funding” will enable “the men and women of Metro Government to deliver the level of transparency and service demanded of them by the community.”
The challenges that lie ahead for Louisville Metro Government are daunting, and no one can reasonably expect 100% open records compliance overnight. Some of these reforms may not yield the desired result and necessitate revision. Some will require more time to to implement than others.
All involve a learning curve.
The Kentucky Open Records Coalition recognizes the need for patience on each side of the open records dynamic — both the public’s and the public agency’s.
But we suggest, and will look for, Metro to monitor and gauge improvement in open records compliance and to regularly provide an open records “report card” detailing successes as well as failures.
Once again, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition stands ready to assist in these efforts.