- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:

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April 20

Lexington Herald-Leader on the ouster of the Kentucky Board of Education commissioner:

Gov. Matt Bevin’s newly reconfigured Kentucky Board of Education got off to an ill start when its first significant action violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Kentuckians who value open - or, for that matter, competent - government have cause for concern.

So do Bevin and the state board, since a successful challenge could conceivably invalidate Wayne Lewis’ appointment as interim commissioner.

Open government laws are not picky technicalities. The difference between democracy and dictatorship is respect for open government. Without transparency, there can be no accountability.

The 11-member state board fell far short of setting a good example the day after Bevin appointed seven new members.

The upshot of the four-hour closed session was the “resignation” (note quotation marks denoting skepticism) of Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the naming of Lewis, a Bevin administration insider and prominent charter school advocate, as interim commissioner.

The newly elected board chairman, Milton Seymore, said Pruitt “was not pushed out” and explained that the board “wanted to go in a different direction” to more quickly move students “to another level.”

Kentucky law, reasonably enough, requires that public boards discuss and debate changes in public policy and direction in, you guessed it, public.

Also, a resignation is not one of the three personnel topics that may be discussed in a closed or executive session.

Amye Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general specializing in open government laws and director of the Bluegrass Institute’s Center for Open Government, detailed the “serious open meetings questions” raised by the April 17 special meeting.

The open-meetings exemption for personnel is narrow: “for discussions or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline, or dismissal of an individual employee, member or student.” There’s no open-meetings exemption for resignations or general personnel matters, as the Supreme Court made clear in 2012.

The wording of the motion to go into executive session was deficient because it did not, as the law requires, describe the reason and general nature of what was to be discussed. Then board chairman Seymore was so nervous, unprepared or poorly advised that he neglected to put the motion to a vote. Authorizing an executive session requires an OK from a majority of the board.

As Bensenhaver said, only the board members know what went on behind closed doors. The board did publicly acknowledge that Pruitt’s job performance was not at issue and he was not being fired for cause. Conveniently (actually, too conveniently), an “employment contract amendment” and interim commissioner were on hand as soon as the board returned to public view.

All this, says Bensenhaver, “suggests that the discussion exceeded the permissible scope” of the law’s exemptions. Also, “to be clear, a discussion of a ‘different direction,’ for the KBE or for education in Kentucky, is not an appropriate subject for a closed session, and any part of the discussion touching on this general topic was almost certainly improper.”

State law mandates that officials in local government, schools and higher education receive information about open government laws within 60 days of taking office. Curiously, no such mandate applies to state-level officials. Chairman Seymore and the state board members should, nonetheless, brush up on transparency laws.

Pruitt’s ousting and Lewis’ rise were obviously orchestrated, though ineptly executed in contempt of Kentucky’s Open Meetings Act, which, when you think about it, was rather revealing after all.

Online: http://www.kentucky.com/

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April 22

The Daily Independent of Ashland on the pension crisis:

Local governments learned this past week they got some relief on their obligations to pay for the state’s unfunded pension obligation.

For now.

This is viewed by most in the short-term as good news, but it is only good news when accepting this is all a fruitless exercise in delaying misery. Truth be told, Kentuckians on both sides of the political spectrum should have a very sour outlook for theCommonwealth’s future until this critically important issue of the unfunded pension liability is actually addressed in a meaningful, bipartisan way. The governor and General Assembly botched this issue, letting an important moment get past them when they had a chance to do something truly consequential. What was done by the General Assembly was a Band-Aid. There was no long-term, concrete plan put in place that defines exactly how this ominous, devastating pension obligation will be resolved in exact terms and over what time frame. Instead, what we got was avoidance, anger and ideology.

To be clear there were some steps taken. The state faces roughly $40-something billion in unfunded obligations and a sizable chunk, but certainly not all of it - roughly half - is for education-related pension plans. With teacher protests consuming the Capitol almost all of the public debate focused on this part of the liability, and one of the most controversial moves was the General Assembly’s approval to give itself the ability to amend retirement plans for future teachers. This is in our view opening the door for getting out of “inviolable” contract, which basically states these benefits are set in stone under the law. Translation - when the crisis gets worse we have the ability to go back on what we promised. Hardly reassuring. Other changes were made for teachers including putting new hires into a hybrid cash balance plan and limiting the number of sick days that can be allocated to retirement. By most accounts the steps taken address $300 million of a $45 billion problem.

One of the greatest challenges to overcoming this pension crisis is its mind-boggling, absurd complexity. There are multiple plans, with multiple layers, and multiple, for lack of a better term, tricks embedded in the systems that enhance benefits. The folks who designed this system over time should throw a party with the same people who designed the state’s ridiculously complex tax code. They would get along well.

Meanwhile, we challenge you, the everyday taxpayer, to try and sort through this mess on your own. See if you can understand it. See if you can begin to understand what the legislators just did. The fact of the matter is only those immersed in this issue and who are experts in pensions, retirement, advanced accounting, etc. can decipher it, leaving the rest of us with facts and tidbits presented by people, certain media organizations and interested parties to convey information through their own ideology-driven prisms.

Call us simpletons, but we would like to offer some novel suggestions for a solution: Through bipartisan leadership bring everyone to the table. Come up with a hard number that will cover all promised obligations for our current public employees. Then come up with a new, simple compensation system for the future that looks out for our public employees and which offers defined benefits for retirement.

Identify in specific terms the total amount it will cost for all of it. Then raise taxes and cut government expenditures to make the number.

Call us crazy, but we think this is the way to handle it, and we think the taxpayer would accept it.

Online: http://www.dailyindependent.com/

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April 24

The Daily News of Bowling Green says manners have worsened:

Times have really changed in this country.

There was a much more pleasant time years ago, when people showed respect for one another. They said “thank you” and “yes sir,” ”no sir,” ”yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.” Young people would show respect to their elders and to their parents. Young men used to open car doors or front doors for their female dates. Young men used to stand when a woman entered the room or excused herself to the bathroom. They would also always wait for a woman to sit before they sat themselves. Kids were always taught to sit up straight at the dinner table, to not slouch and to keep their elbows off the table.

We don’t see as much of this common courtesy anymore, which is unfortunate.

Kids also used to mostly look up to and respect their teachers. We’re sure many of them still do, but there are too many who use foul language toward their teachers. Sometimes, teachers are reluctant to act because of disciplinary restrictions placed on them and fear of lawsuits.

Good manners, including respect and courtesy toward others, need to return to our society. It truly does make us better people when we show proper respect and etiquette to others.

Officials at Bowling Green’s historic Riverview at Hobson Grove are doing their part in trying to restore this way of life. On Saturday, members of Girl Scout Troop 313 were sitting up straight and keeping their elbows off the table as they enjoyed a tea party as part of an etiquette class.

The Girl Scout troop teamed up with Riverview volunteer and tea etiquette instructor Georgeanna McKenzie, who joined volunteer Nancy Baird to help the Girl Scouts learn proper etiquette for the afternoon tea. The event was appropriately held at a venue built in the 19th century, when afternoon tea was more the norm. The event was geared toward helping the Edmonson County troop prepare for its inaugural Girl Scout Afternoon Tea Party, scheduled for May 5 at the Chalybeate Fire Department community building. The girls politely dined on finger sandwiches, fruit and desserts while McKenzie and Baird served them tea in fine china.

The lessons taught by McKenzie and Baird seemed to resonate with the nine girls, who ranged from grades one through eight. It also seemed to resonate with their leaders.

“We decided as a troop that manners are still very important,” said Melissa Johnson, one of the adult leaders of Troop 313. “It’s important in our society, and if we want to have a tea party we want to use proper etiquette.”

We couldn’t agree more with Johnson. Young women need to know proper etiquette in this day and age as much as ever. We firmly believe that classes like this do just that. They help turn these young girls into young ladies and teach them how to act ladylike in certain settings.

Online: http://www.bgdailynews.com/


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