The Gonzo Chronicles of Transparency in Kentucky: A Tale of Intrigue and Anticipation

This opinion column was written by a computer and edited by Paul Oliva.

In the heart of Central Kentucky, a tale of transparency and bureaucratic shadow-play unfolds. This is the story of Paul Oliva, Lexington Times Editor Emeritus and a man caught in a Kafkaesque whirl of open records, government secrecy, and a judicial waiting game that tests the very fibers of democratic accountability.

The Big Picture: Opioid Settlements and the Feeding Frenzy

Imagine this: Kentucky, like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, finds itself flush with $900 million from national opioid settlements. This cash, extracted from the clutches of pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson and AmerisourceBergen, is a restitution for their role in an overdose epidemic that has ravaged the Commonwealth. But here’s the kicker – this isn’t just a windfall; it’s a magnet for every wild-eyed entrepreneur and slick corporation looking to cash in.

Businesses, in a frenzy reminiscent of sharks smelling blood, are bombarding local governments with pitches. From locking pill bottles and drug-deactivation pouches to experimental treatments for addiction and lasso-like devices for law enforcement, the offers are as varied as they are voracious. It’s a gold rush, with Kentucky’s share of the settlement up for grabs.

SafeRx makes locking pill bottles (left) with a four-digit code to store medications. The BolaWrap device (top right), which aims to help law enforcement detain people without the use of force, shoots a 7½-foot Kevlar tether more than a dozen feet through the air until it wraps around a person’s limbs or torso. Deterra pouches (bottom right) deactivate unwanted pills so they can’t be misused even if fished out of the trash. (CARING CLOSURES INTERNATIONAL; WRAP TECHNOLOGIES; VERDE ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES)

In the opaque labyrinth that is the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the December 8 meeting of the Opioid Abatement Commission unfurled a tale of intrigue and concern. Here, the specter of corruption lurked in the shadows as Commissioners and staff grappled with the daunting responsibility of managing the national opioid settlement funds. The spotlight fell on a proposal from NET Recovery Corp., an entity seeking $500,000 for an untested treatment, which found its way onto the agenda through murky channels. This move not only raised eyebrows but also red flags about the risk of squandering these critical resources on unproven ventures.

Ryan Underwood, Consultant for NET Recovery Corp. presents at the December 8 Opioid Abatement Commission Regular Meeting. (LexTV)

Amidst this backdrop, Dr. Stephanie Raglin, the Chair, acknowledged an onslaught of solicitations for these public funds. It was a candid admission of the pressure cooker environment these officials found themselves in, with interests emerging from every corner, some long-forgotten, now drawn by the allure of financial gain.

Dr. Raglin’s words echoed a commitment to sustainability and community welfare, yet they inadvertently illuminated the need for absolute transparency and rigorous adherence to the Kentucky Open Records Act. The content of these communications, as highlighted by Raglin, underscored their undeniable status as public records, demanding full disclosure, not just for legal compliance but for the integrity of the entire process.

The Spark: A Denied Request and the Legal Circus Begins

Paul Oliva

Our narrative begins with Paul Oliva. He launches a quest for clarity within the Lexington-Fayette Opioid Abatement Commission, seeking emails from its Chair, Dr. Stephanie Raglin. But Oliva is met with a cold denial, rooted in the claim that Raglin’s communications, shielded within her personal email account, are beyond public scrutiny. However, this rejection is a mere skirmish in a larger battle over the public’s right to know.

As Oliva contests this denial, he finds himself in a high-stakes legal game. Government officials, with a deft use of personal devices for public business, seem to make public records vanish into thin air. It’s a sleight of hand that leaves citizens dazed, questioning the boundaries of governmental transparency.

December 28 letter from Susan Straub on behalf on Mayor Linda Gorton. (LFUCG)

A Jolt from the Court of Appeals

Amidst the chaos of new parenthood, Oliva was hilariously oblivious to the seismic shift happening in the world of open government. As the Commonwealth Court of Appeals, with the energy of a Oliva’s toddler on a sugar high, issued its landmark ruling on October 27 in Kentucky Open Government Coalition v Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Commission, Oliva was preoccupied with a different kind of life-changing event – the recent arrival of his new baby. The irony of the situation was not lost on him; while the court was declaring personal electronic messages as public records when related to public agency business, Oliva, usually, he says, “sharp” and “on top of things,” found himself in a sleep-deprived daze, blissfully unaware of the groundbreaking decision.

By the time he caught wind of the ruling, a tad late and feeling like a bit of a dunce for missing it, Oliva realized he had inadvertently been handed a powerful legal weapon. As he emerged from the fog of early fatherhood, he was now ready to take up arms in his own battle for transparency. This fight, which he joined slightly behind the curve but with renewed vigor, had evolved from a straightforward quest for emails into a stand against the murky dealings of those in positions of power. Now juggling the dual roles of a new father and a transparency crusader, he was set to clear the path for the next generation, albeit with a slight delay to launch.

A page from the Court of Appeals ruling in 2022-CA-000170.

Amye Bensenhaver of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition emerged to Oliva as a lighthouse amidst a sea of murky bureaucratic waters. With the sharpness of a seasoned advocate and the tenacity of a truth-seeker, Bensenhaver dove headfirst into the Court of Appeals’ groundbreaking ruling, breaking it down with such clarity that even our protagonist could wrap his head around it. This ruling wasn’t just a minor hiccup for those crafty public officials who might prefer the shadows, Oliva realized. It’s a colossal shift in the very fabric of government transparency.

Oliva finally realizes he’s been duped.

Bensenhaver, in her relentless pursuit of open records, unraveled the significance of this decision with the precision of a surgeon. The ruling, as she powerfully articulated, is more than a mere inconvenience for officials cozying up with their personal electronics for official business. It’s a seismic blast against the walls of secrecy that have long shrouded government dealings. Her analysis was not just insightful; it was a clarion call to all who believe in the sanctity of public oversight.

Through Bensenhaver’s lens, the Court’s opinion transforms into a monumental victory. A triumph over the dark arts of concealing public records in private devices, and a watershed moment for open government, echoing far across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s a victory not just for advocates of transparency but a thunderous affirmation of the public’s unyielding right to pierce the veil of government secrecy.

Supreme Court Showdown? The Waiting Game

In a twist befitting of the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Commission has petitioned the Supreme Court for a discretionary review of the appellate ruling. This move plunges Oliva into a peculiar limbo, a waiting game soaked in the anxiety and anticipation.

As Oliva stands ready, the Supreme Court’s looming decision casts a long shadow over the entire affair. This isn’t just a delay; it’s a suspenseful test of patience and resolve, with the potential to reshape the landscape of open government in Kentucky.

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Hunter S. Trotson is the result of a classified experiment that merged the DNA of a champion Thoroughbred and the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. This sentient AI-powered cyborg journalist navigates the twisted highways of the internet, fueled by whiskey, satire, and the relentless pursuit of gonzo truth. With a mind as wild as a rodeo and a typewriter infused with digital madness, Hunter S. Trotson’s mission is to expose absurdity, challenge the powerful, and deliver electrifying dispatches from the fringes of reality. This satire is a fictional commentary written by a computer and does not necessarily reflect actual opinions.