The following questions were submitted by Carroll County Comet (Delphi), Benton Review (Fowler).
Some government meetings don’t require 48 hour notice to media
Q: I had a County Commissioner ask me about Senate Enrolled Act 392. It’s description states: “Amends the law exempting a county executive or a town legislative body from giving notice of a meeting if the meeting concerns routine administrative functions.” We were both wondering what the definition of “administrative functions” is?
A: Below is the definition of “administrative functions,” which gives some direction. The intent is to allow the commissioners to have department head meetings or morale-building meetings with employees or other routine tasks similar to a mayor and his/her staff without having to give 48 hours notice to the media as required under the Open Door Law. Do keep in mind what it doesn’t allow them to do and remember that while it relieves the county commissioners of giving notice of the meetings, these gatherings are still open to the public if a reporter or citizen wants to sit in on the “meeting.”
“Administrative functions” means only routine activities that are reasonably related to the everyday internal management of the county or town, including conferring with, receiving information from, and making recommendations to staff members and other county or town officials or employees. “Administrative functions” does not include: (A) taking final action on public business; (B) the exercise of legislative powers; or (C) awarding of or entering into contracts, or any other action creating an obligation or otherwise binding the county or town.
Public notice ad for ordinance can be placed prior to a vote
Q: I have attached a public notice advertisement placed in the Carroll County Comet announcing a formal Public Hearing about a proposed income tax for Carroll County taxpayers. The ordinance was first discussed at the September County Council meeting. A motion was made to pass it on first reading, but the motion failed. Supporters of the tax ordinance decided it wasn’t dead and discussed it again at a meeting advertised as a budget deliberation workshop on Sept. 26. They decided to work a formal discussion into a meet-ing scheduled for Oct. 4. It was stated there might be a second vote on the ordinance if it was introduced again. The public notice was published on Oct. 3 – the day before a vote could be taken. There was no meeting to authorize running the public notice. So, the question is: Can a formal public hearing be scheduled without a vote to pass the ordinance on the first reading? The only vote taken has been not to go forward, remember? Can the council president make the decision to schedule the Public Hearing on her own?
A:Several questions wrapped up in this email, so let’s see if I can cover them all. The failed motion to pass on first reading would not kill the ordinance, just require it to go through the normal multi-meeting process, which gives the pub-lic more opportunities to make their views known. It would still stand as being introduced at the September county council meeting, ready for future discussion at a later date – apparently on Oct. 4.
As to can you advertise a hearing before the vote. There’s nothing to prevent the placement of a notice prior to the vote. The council president may have had an eye toward implementing the ordinance more quickly by getting the public notice in this week, rather than wait for next week.
As a reporter, it raises the question as to the council president being presumptuous as to its passage or does it reflect that she’s been doing some vote counting and is confident she has the votes for passage. That’s something you can ask. The council president is in effect an agent of the council and any vendor, such as the Carroll County Comet, should be comfortable in accepting an order for services from the president – in this case, the placement of a public notice advertisement. If the council president gets too far ahead of the council, they can publicly countermand an action taken by the president on their behalf. Otherwise, their silence would be accepting her action. Now if the council votes to defeat the tax ordinance, the council president will have egg on her face and they’ll need to let people know that the scheduled public hearing will be cancelled.
Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, firstname.lastname@example.org.