Recent public access seminars conducted around the state educated hundreds of people on Hoosiers’ right to know what their government is doing.
HSPA-member newspapers served as local sponsors of the educational sessions presented by Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack and the HSPA.
The eight seminars attracted 737 people, according to the attorney general’s office. During each panel session, Kossack, HSPA Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key and Deputy Attorney General Anne Mullin O’Connor discussed the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.
“This continues a heritage of public access law training involving the Hoosier State Press Association,” Key said.
About half of the attendees were government workers, including law enforcement officials; about a fourth were attorneys; and the remaining fourth were members of the public, according to Zoeller’s office.
“As attorney general, I am an advocate for greater transparency in government,” Zoeller said. “Based on the strong turnout at each of the seminars and the thoughtful questions attendees posed, I sense a pent-up demand by citizens and elected officials for greater openness.”
Kossack said he was encouraged by the number of members of the public and government officials who attended.
“I am confident that one of the lasting benefits of these seminars will be fewer disputes over access to government records and meetings,” he said. “The more we can communicate with the public and government employees regarding their rights and responsibilities under the public access laws, the less we’ll have to worry about formal complaints and costly litigation.”
Lawyers who attended will be better versed in public access laws to address the needs of their clients, Zoeller said.
“The government attorneys from across the state who were trained at the seminars and earned education credits will now be better-prepared to advise their clients properly on public access questions to ensure the right of the public to be informed is protected,” he said.
The attorney general’s office plans to work on an online public access training program in the future.
It’s still in the conceptual stage but would likely include short interactive videos on various topics involving Indiana’s public access laws, Zoeller said.
Papers’ participation in the seminars benefits the newspaper industry as well as the public, Key said.
“HSPA appreciates our members’ sponsorship of the sessions,” he said. “Education is one of the best ways to ensure our role as government watchdogs isn’t hindered by ill-informed notions about public access.”