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Destruction of LCHS record referred for further investigation

March 23, 2006|MIKE MARSEE

STANFORD - Lincoln County High School prematurely disposed of an anonymous complaint that sparked an internal investigation and suspension of boys basketball coach Jeff Jackson last fall, the Kentucky attorney general's office has concluded.

The attorney general's opinion concluded that the school correctly applied exemptions to the Kentucky Open Records Act in withholding records that were not part of the school's disciplinary action.

However, the anonymous letter that led to the investigation was destroyed by the school, and assistant attorney general Amye Bensenhaver wrote in her opinion that that complaint should have been incorporated as part of the investigative process.

"The premature destruction of the anonymous complaint that spawned (the) investigation raises serious records management issues," Bensenhaver wrote.

A violation of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's summer "dead period" rule led to a one-game suspension for Jackson.

The school initially reported that Jackson served a "self-imposed" suspension in Lincoln's first game of the season, but officials later said he had been suspended by the school.

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An investigation began after the Kentucky High School Athletic Association notified the school of an allegation it received contending that Jackson violated a rule prohibiting athletic activity organized or required by coaches or schools during a two-week period each summer.

Allegation came in anonymous letter

The allegation came to the KHSAA in a one-page, anonymous letter. The KHSAA first notified the school verbally, then later faxed a copy of the letter to school officials.

The KHSAA did not investigate the complaint, allowing the school to conduct an internal investigation. Jackson was notified verbally of his suspension for Lincoln's season-opening game Dec. 2, and once the matter was believed to be closed, the school "discarded the faxed document received from KHSAA outlining the allegation." Because the KHSAA did not conduct an investigation, it also threw away the original letter.

The Advocate-Messenger later requested copies of all records and communication relating to the school's investigation under the open records act.

Bensenhaver wrote that the Advocate would be entitled to a copy of the letter, citing established case law that states that the public "has a right to know what complaints have been made. Once final action is taken, the initial complaints must be subject to public scrutiny. (Any) attempt to categorize complaints as formal public complaints and private individual complaints has no bearing on whether such complaints must be released."

Bensenhaver's opinion states that while the school's inability to produce the letter cannot be declared an open records violation, "we believe that its failure to implement an adequate program for insuring records preservation constitutes a subversion of the intent of the act."

AG's office recommending review

The attorney general's office is recommending a review by the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives' public records division "to determine if additional inquiry is warranted."

However, the attorney general's opinion also concluded that records of communication requested by the Advocate that were "preliminary in nature" were exempt from the open records statute.

The school provided the attorney general's office with copies of the "handful of e-mails containing information gathered by (co-athletic director Julie) Lair during her investigation," that were not part of the final action taken.

Bensenhaver's opinion said the content of those e-mails cannot be disclosed but said they included an e-mail from Lair to KHSAA assistant commissioner Julian Tackett detailing her findings and recommending a disciplinary action that ultimately was not adopted by the school.

Lincoln principal Ty Howard declined to comment on which school officials recommended the penalty that was enforced or why Lair's recommended punishment was not followed.

"Because the undocumented final disciplinary action taken by the high school did not track the disciplinary action Lair recommended, we must infer that the high school did not adopt her findings or recommendations as part of its final action," Bensenhaver wrote in her opinion.

"Since this was not the 'punishment' Lair recommended in her Aug. 18 e-mail to Tackett, it is unclear when her recommendation was rejected, by whom it was rejected and why she was charged with 'implement(ing) the punishment of a one-game suspension.'"



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