Danville releases Duncan Hill petition

October 26, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Danville reluctantly handed over a petition Monday signed by people who apparently supported building houses on land reserved for Hilldale Cemetery expansion.

The petition was addressed to "the citizens of Danville and Boyle County," and was on letterhead for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The petition states, "We ask the people and the tax payers of this great city of Danville, Kentucky, to vote for this petition..." It never addresses the city or its commissioners.

It appears from the petition that NAACP President Norman Bartleson wanted the city to sell or donate the Duncan Hill property to the organization, so it could build "affordable housing" on it. But Bartleson was in fact seeking to purchase the property privately.

A state Attorney General's ruling received Friday said the city's reasoning for keeping the petitions private was "misplaced," and that the city "violated the Open Records Act in denying the Advocate-Messenger's request."


Local officials signed it

The petition was signed by several local officials, including the Boyle County judge-executive, the mayor, the sheriff, the county clerk, the circuit court clerk and the sheriff. It was also signed by the president and vice-president of National City Bank, a Centre College dean, the owner of Smith-Jackson Funeral Home, a City Commission candidate and several residents of Duncan Hill.

Anyone can review the petition at city hall. The Advocate-Messenger obtained a copy Monday.

Commissioner Terry Crowley said, "We felt that it was appropriate to hold on to those petitions." The AG disagrees.

After pressure from residents to talk about the deal publicly, commissioners said that they were not interested in Bartleson's proposal. They have never made the details of the deal clear.

The Advocate-Messenger reported that the city couldn't have sold the land to Bartleson, or anyone else, without a bid process required by state law.

The city has said that the public could not see the petition because commissioners had not taken any final action on the issue.

The AG disagreed, and wrote in its opinion that "... the fact that the city had taken no action on the sale of the property does not alter" the conclusion that the petition is an open record.

Hays sticks to his guns

Ed Hays, the city's attorney, stuck to his guns Monday, saying that the petition was being released, in part, because the commissioners had finished discussing the city's Duncan Hill property and because they had "never had serious discussion about the sale."

Hays has also argued that the petition was "correspondence with a private individual," and exempt from the Open Records law.

The AG disagreed with that as well.

The Advocate-Messenger learned in July that a petition was circulated around town, and was given to the city in executive session. The newspaper filed an Open Records request to obtain it. Access was denied by the city twice.

The city attorney said Monday he "wasn't saying he agreed with the AG opinion," but that he didn't think it was worth a legal battle. He told commissioners, who talked about the issue in executive session, that they could file a lawsuit to keep the petition away from the public.

Elite Development Enterprises, owned by Norman Bartleson, has bought a building permit for a 4,442-square-foot house on a different piece Duncan Hill property. The permit calls for a two-car garage and basement with the house, which is estimated to cost $105,000.

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