Opening his May 26, 2021 opinion column, Ben Carlson, Editor of The Anderson News wrote, “In my 15 years of providing news coverage of local government in your newspaper, I have never witnessed a public meeting fail so spectacularly when it comes to adhering to the state’s open meeting statutes as I did last Thursday night.”
Mr. Carlson was referring to the May BOZA (Board of Zoning Adjustments) meeting, after which the attorney for the defendants sent a letter to BOZA Chairman Jim Doss alleging violation of KRS 61.846 (1), saying he witnessed board members talking privately among themselves regarding a matter before the board.
That is not the story. This is.
While I did not attend in May, I did attend the June BOZA meeting which was held in the same, large, echoing basement of the Anderson County Extension building—not BOZA’s usual meeting place—to accommodate the expected crowd. Subject matter: the race track.
I arrived early and watched as County Clerk Jason Denny tried again and again to get microphones and speakers to work properly, which they never quite did. The meeting began anyway.
The room was nearly full. As I recall, Mr. Carlson was sitting at the front of the room on the far right, near County Attorney Robert Wiedo who serves as BOZA’s attorney. I was sitting front left, but had a hard time hearing Chairman Doss and other board members. The microphones were fading in and out, sometimes not working at all.
For these reasons, I believe board members stood up and walked to Chairman Doss, not for a private meeting, but so they could hear him and each other.
Ask yourself: Would you think you were having a private meeting while standing in front of a room full of people who are staring at you?
I do not believe there was a violation of open meetings statutes. But I do believe Mr. Carlson inserted himself personally and secretly into the procedure and needed a way to explain it.
In a brief filed in Anderson Circuit Court by David Nutgrass, the attorney representing Eddie Carey, the bottom of page 7, footnote #7 reads: “What the transcript won’t tell the Court is that the open meetings violation might never have been addressed were it not for the intervention of The Anderson News editor Ben Carlson. During the private exchange, Mr. Carlson sent a text message to the undersigned [Mr. Nutgrass] bringing to his attention the apparent violation. The undersigned brought the text message to Plaintiff’s counsel’s attention, and the two of them brought it to Mr. Wiedo’s attention in a manner than can be gleaned from the recording.”
Like any citizen, Mr. Carlson has the right to declare if he is witnessing a violation of open meeting rules, but he did not do that. He sent a secret text message which he never disclosed to the public.
Why did Mr. Carlson not stand up and say publicly—in this public meeting—“I see a possible violation occurring”?
Why did Mr. Carlson not speak publicly, right then, to County Attorney Wiedo of the alleged violation?
Why did Mr. Carlson choose to send a secret text message to one party’s attorney, who then needed to advise the other party’s attorney, who then both needed to advise Mr. Wiedo? Why not just send it to Mr. Wiedo directly?
Because Mr. Carlson did not want to be seen influencing and advising County Attorney Wiedo in how to do his job.
And Mr. Carlson never disclosed to the public—not in his opinion column with his “spectacular” outrage, not in the news story, and not in the 10 months since—that he was personally involved. Why?