Subject matter of meeting is key to determining if it’s ‘administrative’


Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, or call (317) 624-4427.

The following questions were submitted by the Odon Journal, Blackford County Area Planning and Zoning, North Vernon Sun & Plain Dealer.

Subject matter of meeting is key to determining if it’s ‘administrative’

Q: I am unable to reconcile “administrative” meetings and the Open Door Law as I understand it. Our new council was counseled at a state conference on how to take advantage of administrative meetings. Some of these meetings last two hours or so. What I understand about administrative meetings is: We can attend, listen and record if we happen to walk by and see that a session is underway. No notification is required. There is no agenda posting, or time restrictions. Meetings can be called for any location any day or time. Just declare an administrative session is open … and it is open. Minutes will show only that a meeting occurred.

So over lunch, two members (or all) begin talking about town business. They are detected, but simply declare an administrative session is in progress and no provision of the ODL is violated. Would such a scenario be possible? (I do understand that no votes may be taken and no contracts signed.) Surely, I’m wrong.

Also, I’m told that the traditional step of posting notices of a special meetings on the town hall door is no longer required. They only post on the town’s website.

A: The subject matter is the key to an administrative functions meeting. If the two commissioners are discussing a new zoning ordinance at the bar – that’s a policy discussion, not administrative. If they are having a staff appreciation event, that’s administrative.

The Open Door Law doesn’t require minutes be kept of a meeting, but it does require a memoranda be kept. [I.C. 5-14-1.5-4] The administrative functions language [I.C. 5-14-1.5-5(f)] does not excuse that requirement, only the language concerning notice of meetings.

As to special meetings, posting to the website is an option that can be done in addition to the normal notice requirements of I.C. 5-14-1.5-5. It does not replace the normal requirements to post at the office or location of the meeting if there is no office; and give the media notice of a meeting 48 hours in advance of the meeting.

Pricing for public notices differs for individuals, government entities

Q: I work for Blackford County. A local newspaper published a public notice for a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing that I conducted. The invoice amount was copied to me in an email to the petitioner. Another person who also had a hearing stopped by my office regarding something and he asked me about his invoice, as he also had to run a notice. The two notices are basically the same. The second person’s invoice was just under $20 more for the same notice.

I was surprised by the difference, so I emailed the newspaper’s editor. She responded that the difference in price would be due to the size that was printed in the paper. She wrote: “I try to keep things like yours the same size, but occasionally, due to different things that are in the paper in a given week, I may have to change the size to accommodate the space available.”

Can this be right? I thought public notices used the same ‘font’ and size of print.

A: Interesting question with some different aspects to tackle. First, the practices are different for a public notice placed and paid for by a state or local government entity than for notices placed by private parties/individuals. The state legislature caps what a newspaper can charge government entities and the pricing formula takes into account different type sizes and column widths with the goal of making the price the same regardless of what paper the notice is placed in and what type size and column width is used. If your public agency placed two notices with the same amount of text, the cost for both should be very close to the same.

For private individuals placing public notices, the newspaper can use its normal advertising practices. Generally, pricing is a function of the size of the ad. The bigger the ad, the more it costs. Newspaper to newspaper cost for the same ad can also be different because ad rates normally are tied to circulation. The Indianapolis Star prints more copies because it reaches more people than a smaller county newspaper, so The Star would charge more for the ad because it’s delivering more readers for the client. It sounds like, for some reason, your local newspaper created a bigger ad for the one gentleman than it did for the other petitioner. This would create a different cost under its billing practices.

Most citizens rarely, if ever, are in a position to know to ask that their notice be published with a certain type size – assuming all notices would be published with the same type size. I’m not clear on why the newspaper changed the type size between the two ads, but they certainly didn’t violate the law by charging more for a larger ad. I’m guessing the person who set the ad probably didn’t give a thought to how that would cost the one client more money that the other who basically published an identical ad. It sounds like they were focused on laying out the page, not the customer cost.

Copyright infringement not an issue when using art for news purposes

Q: I’ve recently been introduced to turn-of-the-century Indiana artist T.C. Steele, who painted scenes of nearby locations. I’m thinking of publishing an image of one of his paintings (I believe Indianapolis’ art museum possesses the original) and asking readers to see if they can find the location in the painting, take a photo of that location and submit it. The painting is called “Street in Vernon,” which I found viewing the Friends of T.C. Steele website. What copyright laws do I need to be aware of?

A: If you are using the T.C. Steele artwork to illustrate a story about T.C. Steele then you don’t have a problem with using the art. If you were using the art in a commercial fashion, for example, as part of a promotional campaign to increase subscriptions to the newspaper, then you would have a copyright infringement question.