Conditions at last month's Kentucky Retirement Systems board meeting violated the state's Open Meetings Act, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said.
Board Chairman Thomas K. Elliott on May 19 was warned by Thomas Stephens, a board member and secretary of the state's personnel cabinet, and by other officials in the governor's office and state troopers that he would be arrested if he participated in that day's board meeting, William A. Thielen, executive director of the $15 billion Frankfort-based retirement system, previously told Pensions & Investments.
The same day, Mr. Stephens also allegedly informed board member Vince Lang that Mr. Lang would be investigated if he ran for board chairman, Mr. Beshear said in a written opinion issued Monday.
“A behind-closed-door indication of arrest if a board member attempts to participate, or of an investigation of a board member who potentially may seek election as chair, made with the intent to alter decisions or behavior related to a public meeting for public business, violates the mandate that public business not be conducted in secret,” Mr. Beshear wrote Monday. “Moreover, the presence of multiple law enforcement officers, who can effectuate an arrest, at the request of someone other than the agency head or a quorum of the board, equates to conducting public business through force. Neither scenario has a place in a democratic government that must be open.”
Citing a need for a “fresh start and more transparency,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order in April removing Mr. Elliott from the board. Despite Mr. Bevin's call for his removal, Mr. Elliott presided at the April board meeting. He attended the May 19 meeting but decided not to participate.
Mr. Beshear's opinion was requested by Jim Carroll, co-founder of advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees.
In a statement on the group's Facebook page, Mr. Carroll wrote that Mr. Beshear's opinion “signaled a victory for fiduciary independence” and that he hopes the opinion ensures future meetings are “conducted transparently and free of disruption from outside parties.”
In an e-mailed statement, Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bevin, said Mr. Beshear's opinion was politically motivated and unsurprising. “Instead of focusing on ways to move the commonwealth forward, he continues to do the opposite. In light of Mr. Elliott's previous disregard of the valid executive order removing him from the board, precautions were taken to ensure there was no disruption to the public meeting.”
The attorney general's office issued a separate opinion last month against Mr. Bevin's removal of Mr. Elliott.
Messrs. Stephens and Thielen could not immediately be reached for comment.