Q&A: Closed meeting

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From The Herald-Press (Huntington):

Q: There was a meeting of the president of the county commissioners, the president of the county council, the town attorney and the county’s human resources director with a state Board of Accounts representative. They won’t let our reporter attend and told a second county commissioner that he couldn’t attend this meeting. Does this violate the Open Door Law?

A: No, the meeting does not violate the Open Door Law.

But there are a couple of things occurring in this situation that are instructive for reporters.

The Open Door Law doesn’t apply the meeting of the above individuals because there is no quorum present of any governing body.

A sole representative of the board of commissioners and county council isn’t enough representation of either body to trigger the public access statute.

Neither president can act alone so their meeting doesn’t hamper the public’s ability to monitor what either body may be considering on a particular issue.

The second county commissioner may have been asked to not join the meeting to avoid creating a quorum of the commissioners, which would have triggered the Open Door Law.

That would have included the need to give 48 hours notice of the meeting, which also may have been something the participants wanted to avoid.

But even if the second commissioner had stayed for the meeting, the reporter could still have been barred from the meeting.

I’m guessing the meeting was an exit interview that Board of Accounts field auditors conduct with members of governing units the agency has reviewed.

The exit interview allows the Board of Accounts representative to give the audited government agency a heads up about the audit’s findings.

The local government then has an opportunity to explain a discrepancy that might change the audit before it is completed.

State law designates audits by the state Board of Accounts to be confidential records up to the point the field auditor files the report with the state examiner, who heads the Board of Accounts.

With that designation, an exit interview can be done as an executive session by a

local governing body under IC 5-14-1.5-6.1(b)(7). It allows for a closed-door meeting to discuss records classified as confidential by state or federal statute.

So while the presence of the second commissioner may have triggered the Open Door Law’s notice provision, it would have not opened the door to the discussion for the reporter.