Mayor Greg Fischer at a news conference in January | Photo by Sara Havens

The administration of Mayor Greg Fischer is refusing to disclose the guest list from its Derby eve parties at Metro Hall in each of the past two years, asserting that such a list is exempt from public disclosure because it is a “preliminary draft” and could discourage prospective companies from locating in Louisville.

While denying the open records request of Insider Louisville for these guest lists, the Fischer administration said it would be able to provide a record of all expenses paid for by the city for guests of the mayor related to this year’s Kentucky Derby — including tickets, housing, travel, food and parties — within the next month. According to WFPL, the city paid nearly $300,000 wooing such Derby guests from 2015 to 2017.

In its denial of the request for the guest lists to the mayor’s Derby eve parties at Metro Hall in 2017 and 2018, the administration stated that these records are exempt from disclosure due to a statute relating to preliminary drafts, correspondence with private individuals, and “preliminary memoranda,” where opinions, policies or recommendations are expressed.

“It has been noted that a public official’s calendar may change hour by hour and may contain meetings/events that may never take place and/or that the public official does not attend,” stated the city’s denial. “Similarly, invited guests may cancel or change their plans and may never attend an event to which they have been invited.”

The city’s response added that “other guests may take their place and may only attend certain events as well. Thus, like a schedule, and given the ever evolving circumstances, any documents reflecting the invitations to invited guests, including itineraries, are being withheld from disclosure due to their inherently preliminary and tentative status.”

The Fischer administration also noted in its denial that such guest lists are exempt from public disclosure because they “pertain to the prospective location of a business or industry where no previous public disclosure has been made.”

“The guests invited by the Mayor’s Office and/or Louisville Forward are prospective companies inquiring about potential economic development projects in Louisville,” according to the response. “Disclosure of their company’s name and/or their name could adversely affect the decision to locate in Louisville or otherwise make a business decision that would benefit Louisville.”

Insider followed up this denial with questions for the mayor and his economic development team, including whether such lists could be redacted to exclude representatives of prospective businesses, and how a list of invitees from a party that happened over a year ago could still be regarded as preliminary.

Insider also asked for the total number of guests who were invited to the 2017 and 2018 Derby parties and how many of those were representatives of prospective businesses, as well as one specific example of a company that decided to locate or invest in Louisville as a result of its invitation to Derby week festivities by the city.

Spokespersons for the mayor and Louisville Forward did not immediately respond to any of these questions.

Fischer’s office also denied WFPL’s open records request last year for the names of any guests visiting the mayor’s office in Metro Hall, stating that any schedule or calendar of the mayor is a preliminary draft and their disclosure could have “negative ramifications for economic development interests.”

The mayor’s office also denied Insider’s open records request last month seeking his office’s recommendations to Gov. Matt Bevin for which census tracts in Louisville should be submitted by the state to the U.S. Treasury to be named Opportunity Zones under a new federal program to encourage capital investment.

His office said the census tract recommendations were exempt from disclosure due to being “preliminary recommendations,” even though the Treasury had already certified Kentucky’s Opportunity Zones and the application process was complete. Insider is in the process of appealing this denial to the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General.

In March, the Attorney General’s office ruled that the Fischer administration had violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act when its secret panel of citizens and city employees met in private to choose an economic development project on city-owned land at the Heritage West site.

Mayor Fischer has repeatedly touted the transparency of his administration, with his spokesman saying last year that “all you have to do is follow his Twitter feed and social media, and you can see what he’s up to every day.”

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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