Posting of published public notices is optional, not required


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

The following questions were submitted by Parke County Sentinel (Rockville), The Republican (Danville), The Liberty Herald:

Posting of published public notices is optional, not required

Q: Our sheriff said he would prefer to continue to publishing sheriff’s sales in our newspaper, but was told S.E.A. 332 required him to print one copy of the public notice and post the following two on an official website. Is he correct?

A: No. The posting of subsequent notices after the first publication is an option, not a requirement under S.E.A. 332, authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

The sections that mark the legislation as optional can be found in the Enrolled Act version of the bill. Section 2 is the general language giving the digital option for multi-run public notices. Section 35 is the specific language for sheriff’s sales (mortgage foreclosures). Section 36 is the specific language for sheriff’s sales (execution of civil judgments).

In those three sections, you’ll find the world “may” or “or” designating that the sheriff has a choice. If anyone needs a copy of those specific sections to deal with this question with your local officials, let me know and I’ll send you a copy of the relevant sections.

No requirement to publish notice for annual meetings of non-profit

Q: Do we have to print annual meeting notices in the legal section of the paper and charge them legal rates, or can they just be put in the regular part of the newspaper under “meetings?”

A: I believe you are talking about an “annual meeting” notice by non-profit entities. There is no publication requirement, so you are free to publish those notices as you see fit or not even publish. I think many newspapers publish them as a service to the community to make them aware of the meetings.

If you are talking about a notice of when government units are meeting during the year, those notices fall under the Open Door Law. While those units are required to give newspapers that have requested notice the information, there is no publication requirement, so you could not charge them for the publication unless they wanted to pay you to make sure the list of meeting dates is published. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that happen.

Email discussions by governing bodies thwart the legislative purpose of the Open Door Law

Q: We have concerns with how Purdue University Board of Trustees run their meetings (all substantive decisions appear to be made ahead of time, behind closed doors in executive sessions).
They actually have press releases prepared for decisions that haven’t been made yet in a public meeting, such as mandatory age retirement policy. Shouldn’t they be required to provide some information ahead of time for the public on what the agenda items actually are?

A: Open Door Law requires notice of the location, date and time of meeting, but not the agenda. If the trustees use an agenda, they have to post it at the door at the beginning of the meeting. (Posting agenda – I.C. 5-14-1.5-4 and Notice of meetings – I.C. 5-14-1.5-5)

Notice of executive sessions do have to include the statutory provision that outlines the subject matter they are discussing in an executive session. [I.C. 5-14-1.5-6.1(d)]

I don’t know what provision they could use to justify a discussion on mandatory age retirement policy in an executive session. I always recommend a newspaper monitor executive session notices closely and then question when something was discussed by a governing body when you have a vote on an item with little to no discussion.

Of course, another way to avoid public discussion is if the issue was vetted by the governing body through emails. That would require public records requests to flesh out the discussion, but isn’t prohibited by state law. Best you can do is argue that it circumvents the intent of the Open Door Law by moving the discussion from a public meeting to an email discussion that would require the public to jump through Access to Public Records Act hoops to follow.

If they are using this system of reaching decisions, it would explain how press releases could be ready to go – just awaiting the public/official vote that will conducted during the open meeting.

Email discussion by a governing body thwarts the legislative purpose of the Open Door – “It is the intent of this chapter that the official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly, in order that the people may be fully informed.” (I.C. 5-14-1.5-1) Even though the vote is taken in the open meeting, are Hoosiers fully informed if the give-and-take between governing board members disappears from view?

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