Q&A: Executive session in middle of public meeting


From the Greene County Daily World:

Q:  After calling the regular meeting to order, a city council conducted a public hearing on a federal disaster recovery grant from Housing and Urban Development. It’s a $280,000 federal grant that the city is basically thinking about co-signing to help a couple’s business grow.

After conducting the public hearing for a while, they went into executive session for about 15 minutes, and then came back out and continued the meeting. They then voted (in the open meeting) to proceed with the grant application process and then went on with their meeting.

As far as I can tell, they didn’t advertise for an executive session.  Did they conduct an illegal executive session? If so, could you give me the Indiana Codes and also the reasoning behind why it was illegal so I can explain it to the mayor.

A: It appears the city council did violate the Open Door Law. The statute prohibits holding an executive session during the middle of a public meeting. See I.C. 5-14-1.5-6.1(e).

Executive sessions are considered separate events, and the council must provide 48 hours notice of such an event. See I.C. 5-14-1.5-5.

Separating out executive session, which are allowed for specific subject matters [See I.C. 5-14-1.5-6.1], serves to prevent governing bodies from taking its debate on issues that the public has a right to hear behind closed doors. The public has a right to know more about the decision process than the final vote. The public has a right to know the alternatives to the selected path, the pros and cons argued over a policy, which elected officials were advocates or opponents of a position during the debate.

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