HSPA LEGAL HOTLINE: Regardless of numbers, city council committees are subject to Open Door Law

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The following questions were submitted by a Westfield resident, the Tribune-Star (Terre Haute), and the Indianapolis Business Journal: 

Regardless of numbers, city council committees are subject to Open Door Law

Q: Listening to Westfield council last night, one council member proposed forming a three-member committee of the council to review a controversial zoning issue.  I think this was to avoid open meetings law. What is your opinion ?

A: A committee created by the Council is also subject to the Open Door Law, whether it has only three council members or if it had no council members on it. If the motivation of the council member was to avoid a public discussion of the issue, it would be a failed effort. 

Advisory committee created by school board falls under Open Door Law

Q: The Vigo County School Corporation created an advisory committee for the Vigo County School Corp./board that recommended an elementary school closure. The state’s Public Access Counselor issued an informal opinion that the group was subject to the Open Door Law.

If a group is appointed by a superintendent, it is not subject to Open Door, right? I’m not saying that happened here, but I believe that’s what I’ve written in past stories.

A: The PAC opinion would be based on IC 5-14-1.5-2(b), which defines “governing body.” The school board’s attorney appears to be relying upon the fact that only committees appointed by the governing body are subject to the Open Door Law [See (b)(3)]. 

The PAC though is taking into account (b)(1) which includes committees taking official action on public business. If the advisory committee was created by the school board and reported its recommendation to the school board, then I think it would fall under the scope of the Open Door Law, regardless of whether the school board delegated the appointment power of the committee to the school superintendent. 

The answer in these questions is going to be fact specific. It would be a loophole if a governing body could have its committees avoid public scrutiny merely be asking the superintendent to appoint the members.

Public notice rates do not apply to out-of-state  government units 

Q: I have a question about the statutory rate table for public notice advertising. Are we required to use the rate table only when the notice is published for an Indiana government entity? We received a notice for publication from a county in Illinois. I want to clarify that we are not obligated to use the statutory rate table for an out-of-state government entity.

A: Good question. The law limits what Indiana newspapers can charge state and local government units. It doesn’t apply to federal units of government or other states’ government units. The language in IC 5-3-1-1 isn’t specific on that point, but I would argue that the Indiana legislature would not have the authority to regulate the pricing between an Indiana newspaper and customer that isn’t an Indiana government unit. 

You can charge the Illinois county what you’d charge an Indiana citizen to place a public notice. 

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