There was no great ceremony associated with the announcement of Debby Yetter’s retirement from the Courier Journal on Friday’s “Comment on Kentucky,” but her contributions to open government in Kentucky command notice.
Debby Yetter is that most honorable of things: a tireless investigative reporter and consummate professional.
Debby Yetter is a fearless advocate for the public’s right to know. Her hard-fought and ultimately successful battle to breach the ostensibly impenetrable wall of secrecy within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — and to expose institutional failures that contributed to the horrific deaths of children under its supervision — is nothing short of legendary.
Her efforts — along with the efforts of the Courier Journal’s remarkable legal team, Jon Fleischaker and Jeremy Rogers — prompted the Kentucky Court of Appeals to declare:
“The Cabinet's conduct in this case was egregious. The face of the record reveals the ‘culture of secrecy’ of which the trial court spoke; and it evinces an obvious and misguided belief that the Open Records Act is merely an ideal – a suggestion to be taken when it is convenient and flagrantly disregarded when it is not. We could not disagree more. ‘Publicity,’ Justice Brandeis tells us, ‘is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.’
“In sum, we affirm the trial court, but we also echo its exasperation at the Cabinet's systematic and categorical disregard for the rule of law – both as codified in the Open Records Act and as handed down by the Franklin Circuit Court.
“The Open Records Act is neither an ideal nor a suggestion. It is the law. Public entities must permit inspection of public records as required or risk meaningful punishment for noncompliance. Rigid adherence to this stark principle is the lifeblood of a law which rightly favors disclosure, fosters transparency, and secures the public trust.”
The Kentucky Open Government Coalition extends its deepest thanks to Debby Yetter for her decades of service to The Courier Journal, the community, and the Commonwealth, as well as for her critical role in advancing the public’s right to know.
On a personal note, I thank her for her consistent kindness and support.
Debby Yetter is a model for all reporters to emulate.
Debby Yetter is a hero of open government.