Q&A: Private huddle during public meeting


From the Pulaski County Journal (Winamac):

Q: I am running into some problems gaining information from county commissioner and county council meetings. During a regular meeting of either of those boards, should there be any information in their packets that is not public information? There have been several instances where the commissioners will get to the bottom of their packets and start discussing things amongst themselves without ever saying what they are discussing. Most of the time no decisions are made; however, it is clear they are discussing things they do not want the audience to hear. The auditor justified this to me yesterday saying those things simply were not meant for public ears. What is your take on this?

A: The county commissioners and the auditor don’t determine what is meant for public ears. The Indiana General Assembly has set out specific subjects that it says may be discussed in an executive session; otherwise, the discussion is to be held in a public meeting where citizens have a right to be able to hear the discussion and videotape or audiotape it if they want.

As to their board packets, they are public records which you can ask to inspect or copy. The burden is on the commissioners to point to a statute that would allow them to keep any records in that board packet confidential.

If you know when the auditor puts the packet together, you could ask for a copy at that time. It should be no trouble for him or her to run an extra copy. If there’s a record that is being distributed for an executive session to follow the regular meeting, you could be denied a copy of that record only.

Sounds like you need to have a discussion with them or their attorney to halt the private huddle during a regular meeting.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.