May 16, 2006

Your Weekly Reeder: Arena Authority closed to requests

“Freedom of information is a constant battle, after all, and denial is far too often the norm rather than the exception to the rule,  which should be transparency.”—Charles N. Davis, University of Missouri School of JournalismI’m disappointed that the members of the Louisville Arena Authority apparently have no interest in holding Chairman W. James Host to a promise he made to the public and the media.At the first public meeting of the Authority back in January, Host said that even though he didn’t believe the Authority was a public agency because it was formed as a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation, he intended to abide by the state’s open-records and open-meetings laws in the interests of transparency.That sounded good. Unfortunately, it was a bunch of bull.LEO filed an open-records request with the Authority on March 8, in which it asked mainly for Host’s telephone records and notes of any meetings involving Host and individuals representing E.ON U.S., the University of Louisville and Humana, in addition to attorney Ed Glasscock of Todd Brown Frost and former Courier-Journal publisher Ed Manassah.It also requested information regarding Host’s relationship with agencies and individuals in the Commerce Cabinet after he resigned as the Cabinet’s secretary on Oct. 14. When this same information was requested of the Commerce Cabinet, a member of its legal staff referred LEO to Host.As of today, LEO is still waiting for the information it requested on March 8, even though the Kentucky Attorney General’s office has issued an opinion stating that the Arena Authority is, in fact and by law, a public agency, and that it was in violation of the state open-records law by not complying with LEO’s request.Upon receipt of that opinion, LEO re-filed its original request and heard nothing until the close of business Friday, May 12, when a courier delivered a letter from Mark V. Sommer, the Authority’s general counsel, saying that “the earliest date on which records, which are responsive to your Request for Open Records, will be available is June 1, 2006.”By way of explanation, Sommer pointed out that “the Arena Authority has no employees to facilitate a response to your request,” and “has no ‘fixed’ office location, simply a mailing address.” He further noted that the Board of Directors may have to retain or designate someone to “identify records responsive to your request and to locate and copy such (or make such otherwise available.).”Finally, he stated that even after such records are located, “the Arena Authority’s General Counsel may well need to review the records located to determine whether any exceptions to the Open Records Act apply.”In other words, don’t hold your breath, LEO. Interestingly, Sommer also pointed out that the Authority has until May 19 to appeal the AG’s decision about whether it’s a public agency. If the Authority appeals and contends that it is not subject to open-records and open-meetings laws, the matter could go to court.It would be easy for a cynic to believe that Host wants to keep the records secret until after the Metro Council approves the $357 million bond issue to build a downtown arena at the E.ON U.S., aka LG&E, site instead of the old Water Company site.For reasons still unclear, Host has lobbied relentlessly, both publicly and behind the scenes, for the selection of the E.ON U.S. site, even though a study commissioned by David Jones and John Schnatter produced compelling reasons that the old Water Company site is more economical and practical.It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that LEO, on behalf of the public, wants to know more about. Even some members of the Arena Authority have admitted that all they know about the private agreements and negotiations is what Host has told them.It’s not surprising that Host’s public declarations would be at odds with his private maneuvering. It’s the way Republicans do business. We’ve seen it in Washington and we’ve seen it in Frankfort. All the power brokers care about is getting their way.What’s disappointing, however, is that nobody on the Arena Authority has the guts to stand up and demand that Host pay more than lip service to the concept of transparency.The Attorney General has found them to be in violation of state law. Just as sad, they’re in violation of the public trust. Contact the writer at billyr@leoweekly.com