KENTUCKY — Releasing unedited sheets that record public comments and questions from callers during televised city commission meetings does not necessarily invade the callers’ privacy, the attorney general ruled in late March.
The opinion ordered the Owensboro City Commission to give Bryan Smeathers, a former city commission candidate, three “call-in sheets” that pertained to him. City employees record callers comments and questions on the “call-in sheets” and then give them to the commission for a public reading and discussion. The sheets include the caller’s name, address and telephone number but these are not broadcast.
Two of the calls in this case ridiculed Smeathers, and the other asked for confirmation of an earlier statement by him.
“While the viewers may prefer the veil of anonymity afforded by telephone call-in, as opposed to public participation, we do not believe that the Owensboro City Commission can legitimately assert a substantial privacy interest on their behalf,” the opinion said.
The opinion left open the possibility that in other cases, “when the content of the calls touches upon the intimate or personal features of the callers’ lives,” call-in sheets may be kept confidential.
Smeathers asked for the records immediately after a December 1993 meeting, arguing that they were public record and he had a right to know his accusers. The city agreed to release edited copies of the call-in sheets, after the callers’ names, addresses and phone numbers were deleted.
Smeathers appealed to the attorney general’s office, asking for the unedited copies. The opinion found that the privacy exception was inapplicable in this case, and the public interest may be served if release of the callers’ identities will discourage citizens from using the call-in process “to irresponsibly vilify a fellow citizen.”
(Kentucky Open Records Decision No. 45, March 23, 1994)
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