Ky. attorney general orders university to release correspondence records

KENTUCKY — Northern KentuckyUniversity’s student newspaper, The Northerner, is in a 30-daywaiting period to find out whether the school will respond to an open recordsrequest, as ordered by the Kentucky Attorney General, or appeal to the CampbellCounty Circuit Court.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway ordered the university to releasedocuments of correspondence between two recently fired faculty members and otherfaculty and staff members, said Mark Payne, The Northerner’sprint editor-in-chief. Blanche Pringle-Smith was let go on Feb. 3, and MichaelGriffin on Feb. 17, according to the The Northerner website. Bothwere former coordinators for the Office of African American Student Affairs.

Although they cannot be obtained through the university, Payne said,Pringle-Smith gave the newspaper a copy of forms she received upon herdismissal, called “NKU correctional forms,” which are vague in theirdescription of why she was fired.The Northerner’s requestfor the e-mail correspondence leading up to the firing of Pringle-Smith andGriffin was also denied, because it would have been “tooburdensome,” Payne said. However, the Attorney General determined this wasnot a legitimate reason to deny the records, he said.

“The Attorney General said that the unwanted burden wasn’t alegitimate reason to deny us those records,” Payne said.

Jay Manire, associate counsel for the Office of Legal Affairs, wrote tothe Northerner, “we intend to use the next 30 days to assesswhether it would be more advantageous for the university to litigate the matterin Campbell (County) Circuit Court or attempt to go through the voluminousrecords to provide you only the non-exempt correspondence,” according toan article on the newspaper’s website. Manire declined to comment for thisarticle.

The university would have to file an appeal to the Campbell County Circuit Courtif within 30 days it decides that the burden is too great to produce theinformation, said Ashley Pack, general counsel for the KentuckyPress Association.

“When they say ‘burdensome’ it will be: How manythousands of documents, how many man hours, how expensive will it be? It’sa pretty high burden,” she said.

If, however, within 30 days the university does not file an appeal, theymust comply with the Attorney General’s initial opinion and disclose therequested information.

“They have 30 days, and that’s a pretty limited time period,in order to appeal the Attorney General’s decision. If they don’t,the Attorney General’s decision has the ‘force and effect of thelaw’… So if they don’t appeal it, they have to give the recordsup,” Pack said.

The communications director for the Attorney General, Allison GardnerMartin, said in a voicemail message that the office could not comment on thecontents of any specific opinions, but also said that the opinions do carry the”force of law.”

“They are advisory opinions in nature. They do carry the force oflaw. We cannot force the university to [disclose] the records, but if they donot and they are taken to court and the court finds that they must produce therecords, the court can make the university cover the attorneys’ costs forthe parties,” Martin said.

The Northerner had also sought to obtain copies of the grievancessubmitted to the university by Pringle-Smith and Griffin after their respectiveterminations. The university denied the request, saying that the grievances werepart of an ongoing investigation, a decision that was upheld by the AttorneyGeneral, Payne said. When the university closes the files, he added, thenewspaper would request them again.

The Northerner reporter who filed the requests, Jesse Call, said hespoke with Griffin and Pringle-Smith today about the situation. He confirmedthat the grievances are still open, meaning the paper still cannot request thatinformation, and said that he was not surprised with the responses he had gottenfrom the university. “This isn’t limited to thesituation,” he said. “[Northern Kentucky University] is regularlytrying to make records unavailable.”