Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear's office ruled last week that Pikeville Independent Schools violated the state's Open Records Act by failing to produce a controversial and secretive life insurance policy awarded to the district's superintendent more than a decade ago.
The decision stems from a request filed by school board member Ashley Brown for a copy of the life insurance policy that the district's board, in 2008, awarded to Superintendent Jerry Green in closed session.
Green's policy has been the subject of controversy in the district for months. In April, one board member loyal to Green threatened to resign after other board members questioned whether the policy was awarded illegally.
Green announced his retirement, effective June 30, 2020, during a board meeting earlier this month. He resigned as the board's secretary, effective immediately, during the same meeting.
District officials, in their response to Brown's request, said the district could not produce a copy of the life insurance policy because it did not keep a copy in its possession.
In its decision last week, the Office of the Attorney General ruled that the "nature and purpose of the document, not the place where it is kept," determine whether a record is classified as "public," and that "the agency's lack of possession is therefore not a legitimate basis for denial."
Green and the district's board attorney, Max Thompson, declined to comment for this story.
"We will get this record, and I hope we get it with little difficulty," said Amye Bensenhaver, an attorney who specialized in open records and open meetings laws during a 25-year career in the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General.
Bensenhaver, now director of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, said she is working with Brown to retrieve a copy of the policy.
Few details about the policy have been made public.
According to district records, the district's five board members went into closed session in a July 2008 meeting and completed Green's annual evaluation. A month later, the district cut a $154,000 check to Monumental Life Insurance Company.
In September of that year, Thompson, the board attorney, wrote a letter to Green saying the board had "agreed to pay for a One Million Dollar Term Life Insurance Policy or pay the equivalent of a term policy premium towards a Whole Life Policy" during the July meeting.
Thompson told the Herald-Leader in April that board members gave the policy to Green because "other districts were attempting to hire him away, so they wanted to increase his overall compensation package."
"That was their goal," Thompson said in April. "They were satisfied with his performance, so they wanted to keep him."
School districts were allowed to perform superintendent evaluations in closed session at the time, but once the board made the decision to give Green a life insurance policy "the proper way to do that would have been to vote on that in open session," Thompson said.
Green declined to comment in April about whether the board complied with the state's open meetings law when it awarded the policy.
According to state data, Green is the fourth-highest paid superintendent in Kentucky at $215,000 per year. The only superintendents to make more are those in Fayette, Jefferson and Boone counties. About 1,200 students attend two schools operated by Pikeville Independent Schools, which regularly performs above the state average for ACT scores and general academic performance.
Green made $228,000 during the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to a check history provided by Brown, the school board member who requested a copy of the life insurance policy. His contract during that year promised a base salary of $153,000.
While superintendent contracts usually contain information about the benefits they receive, Green's contract does not mention the 2008 policy, and a superintendent compensation survey for 2018-19 lists Green as having no life insurance benefit.
Brown said she first asked for a copy of the policy more than a year ago, and has made numerous written requests since then, but that the district never produced a copy.
"Not having the policy on file makes it hard for anyone in my position to be certain about anything when talking to the general public," Brown said. "And believe me, they are interested."
Bensenhaver said the order compels the district to provide the record or initiate an appeal through a Circuit Court action.
"The ball at this point is in the district's court, so to speak," Brown said. "I'm truly hoping that this life insurance policy will finally be placed into record and therefore rectify the violation of (the) open records law."
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