March 1, 1994
IN RE: Maleena D. Streeval/Office of the Mayor of the City of
OPEN RECORDS DECISION
This appeal originated in a request for public records submitted by Ms. Maleena D. Streeval, Editor of The Casey County News, to the Office of the Mayor of the City of Liberty, Honorable Freddie Goode, on February 9, 1994. Ms. Streeval requested copies of "all payroll checks issued to employees by the City of Liberty during the months of December 1993 and January 1994." Having received no written response to her request, Ms. Streeval initiated this appeal with the Attorney General on February 16, 1994.
Although she has not received a formal written denial of her request, Ms. Streeval has been advised by Mayor Goode that he will not permit her to inspect city employee payroll checks. In his view, release of these records would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the employees' right of privacy. Mayor Goode further informed Ms. Streeval that the city employees "have signed affidavits informing him they don't want such information released publicly."
We are asked to determine if the Mayor of the City of Liberty violated the Open Records Act in responding to Ms. Streeval's request. For the reasons set forth below, an assuming the facts of this appeal to have been fairly and accurately presented by Ms. Streeval, we conclude that the Mayor's actions constitute both a procedural and substantive violation of the Act.
KRS 61.880(1) imposes certain duties and obligations on a public agency which has received a request for records under the Open Records Act. That statute provides:
Each public agency, upon any request for records made under KRS 61.870 to 61.884, shall determine within three (3) days, excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, after the receipt of any such request whether to comply with the request and shall notify in writing the person making the request, within the three (3) day period, of its decision. An agency response denying, in whole or in part, inspection of any record shall include a statement of the specific exception authorizing the withholding of the record and a brief explanation of how the exception applies to the record withheld. The response shall be issued by the official custodian or under his authority, and it shall constitute final action.
Mayor Goode violated the Open Records Act by failing to respond to Ms. Streeval's request in writing and within three business days. Although he verbally notified her that his office would not honor her request, this response was deficient in several respects. An agency's written denial must be accompanied by a statement of the specific exception authorizing nondisclosure, and a brief explanation of how the exception applies to the record or records withheld. The procedural requirements of the Open Records Act are not mere formalities, but are an essential part of the prompt and orderly processing of a records request. We urge Mayor Goode to review the relevant provisions to insure that future responses conform to the Act.
Turning to the substantive issues raised in this appeal, we find that Mayor Goode cannot properly withhold payroll checks or other documents which reflect the salaries of city employees. KRS 61.878(1)(a) authorizes a public agency to withhold:
Public records containing information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy[.]
Although this Office has acknowledged that a public employee is entitled to privacy, under this exception, with respect to matters of a personal nature, including home address, social security number, and marital status, see, e.g., OAG 76-717, OAG 79-275; OAG 87-37; OAG 87-84; OAG 91-48; 93-ORD-144, we have consistently recognized that the public has a right to know the name, position, work station, and salary of a public employee. See, e.g., OAG 76-717; OAG 85-94; OAG 86-38; OAG 87-76; OAG 88-13; OAG 89-97; OAG 90-19; OAG 90-34; 93-ORD-144. These opinions are premised on the notion that these are matters in which the public has a legitimate interest since public employees conduct public business at public expense. Disclosure of a public employee's salary therefore does not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Mayor Goode is directed to make these records available for immediate inspection and copying.
Mayor Goode may challenge this decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court. Pursuant to KRS 61.880(3), the Attorney General should be notified of any action in circuit court, but should not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings.
AMYE B. MAJORS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Honorable Freddie Goode
Mayor, City of Liberty
P. O. Box 127
Liberty, KY 42539
Ms. Maleena Streeval, Editor
The Casey County News
P. O. Box 40
Liberty, KY 42539