Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, skey@hspa. com.
The following questions were submitted by the Spencer Evening World, Hendricks County Flyer (Avon), Brown County Democrat (Nashville), The Corydon Democrat.
Discussion of county attorney’s resignation covered by Open Door
Q: Since the county attorney is a contracted position, I assume it would stand that discussion of the resignation of the county attorney, and consideration of that position and candidates for the position should be discussed in an open session, not in executive session?
A: If the county attorney is a contracted vendor of services, not an employee, then the county commissioners or county council could not use the provisions in the Open Door Law to discuss job performance or receive information about alleged misconduct in an executive session. So, you are correct.
OK to run political ad from customer supporting, criticizing candidates
Q: I’m reaching out to you about an ad someone wants to place in our paper. The person running the ad is not running for office herself, but the ad lists the candidates she supports. In doing so, she specifically called out one candidate that she does not support. Can we run this ad, and if so, are there any disclaimers we should include?
A: The ad is a political ad because it advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. You are correct in adding the language that states who paid for it and that it isn’t approved by any candidate or candidate’s committee.
As to the negative content about the one candidate, unless the newspaper knows any of the allegations are incorrect, you’re fine with running the ad. (For example, if the newsroom says there have been no violations of the Open Door Law by the candidate, then you should remove that allegation.)
Superintendent can restrict access of media to event at public school
Q: Brown County students are participating in a student-led protest on the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Because of “threats” the superintendent said she has received from the public (directed at her, not the students), she decided to hold the protest in the school gym. She has now notified us that she is not allowing any media inside the school buildings. Can she do this in a public school?
A: While a school building may be a publicly owned building, that doesn’t make it a “public forum” under First Amendment cases. The school district can control who comes and goes within its buildings – you won’t find members of the public roaming the halls or hanging out in the gym.
She can prevent you from coming inside, but I would press her for a reason why since this is a newsworthy event – students caring enough about an issue to organize a protest that the school district is apparently recognizing. Her wanting to quarantine the event could become part of the story. Threats on the superintendent obviously is also a story.
If she doesn’t budge – you might reach out to the student newspaper staff to provide you with a story/photos/video. Or find some students to facetime the event with the newspaper.
Board of Accounts training session can be closed to public, press
Q: A member of one of our fire district boards invited me to attend a meeting she scheduled that will include the rest of her board. She also invited other fire district board members and township trustees from throughout the county as well as the three county commissioners. As part of the meeting (designed to help fire district boards become better educated about what’s required of them, this woman said), she has a conference call scheduled with the state board of accounts. She called me back later and said the state board of accounts won’t do the call if the media is present. Would you consider this gathering to be an “orientation” and, therefore, not required to be a public meeting?
A: I’ve had a couple of calls with the state Board of Accounts and my understanding is there will be a public meeting, but the state Board of Accounts training session will be done beforehand. It will not be an executive session, but it can be closed to the public because it’s an orientation session, which is an exception to the definition of meeting under the Open Door Law. Since it’s not a meeting, there will be no notice needed for the training session.I was also led to believe that they might still invite you to sit in on the training session and that would not be a problem for the SBOA.