Carroll County Comet
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
According to Indiana’s Open Door Law handbook, “caucus” means a gathering of members of a political party or coalition which is held for purposes of planning political strategy and holding discussions designed to prepare the members for taking official action.
Indiana’s Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said it is wrong to compare the Carroll County Commissioners to the Indiana General Assembly. He said a caucus is to “galvanize a political strategy” employing political ideology.
“Absolutely not, should this meeting be called a caucus,” Britt emphatically stated. “A caucus is to ensure the Party members’ actions are consistent with the Party’s ideology.”
Britt also said the Party Chair (in this case, Auditor Beth Myers) is the person who officially calls a caucus, not the commissioners. He said it sounds like the Commissioners, on the advice of their attorney, might be trying to abuse the caucus exemption in the Open Door Law. Britt stated when Jack Krouse advises about the jail project to a majority of the commissioners and council, that act would be considered “receiving information” and therefore, the commissioners and council members are in a public meeting.
Britt wrote an opinion about a similar matter in March of this year regarding the Common Council for the City of Bloomington in which he stated, “a caucus is certainly a vehicle for taking official action on the political party’s business, which is why a caucus is not subject to the ODL. The goal of the ODL is to ensure the people are informed on the business of the public, not political parties.”
Commissioners to go underground with jail discussions
Carroll County Comet
Carroll County Commissioners decided at the Monday virtual meeting, they will “caucus” to discuss the jail project. In addition, they will invite all members of the County Council to “caucus” with them. The decision was made after attorney Ted Johnson strongly urged his bosses to meet in a closed session with the Council as well as the jail project Construction Manager, Jack Krouse.
Johnson said Commissioners and Council members should prepare to make a decision during the proposed caucus. He said it would be a gathering of a political party (all sitting Commissioners and Council members are Republicans) in a “closed door situation” without the public, to “prepare for the purpose to make decisions” about the jail project. Johnson said no notice is required to be given to the public, however he recommended posting a notice because it would be a “warning to the public to stay out” if they saw the two branches of the county government meeting. Johnson stated several times that his former employers, the Clinton County Commissioners, all Republicans, used a “caucus” to discuss matters on several occasions. He also advised “they” caucus in Indianapolis frequently, likely referring to members of the Indiana General Assembly.
Johnson further insisted the “caucus” could be held in the courthouse, although it is a political party meeting. He said the members of the General Assembly meet in the State House.
Commissioner Bill Brown was the only commissioner to question why the two groups would need to meet in secret. Johnson reiterated it was necessary for the members of the Republican Party to determine how they will vote about issues relating to the jail project. Johnson emphasized the two groups could not legally vote while in the “caucus” but they could talk about the project freely.
Commissioner Steve Pearson said he was in agreement with holding a caucus with the Council and pushed to initiate the meeting as soon as possible. Commissioner Loren Hylton agreed with Pearson saying he “thinks it’s a great idea.”
Auditor Beth Myers, who is the Carroll County Republican Party Chair and serves as the secretary for the Commissioners and Council per statute, was directed to invite Council members to a caucus on June 29, June 30, July 1 or July 2 to meet from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Carroll County Courthouse.