Open Door Law gives public right to observe, record meetings but not to comment

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

The following questions were submitted by The Rochester Sentinel, Hoosier Media Group, and Fort Wayne Newspapers:

Open Door Law gives public right to observe, record meetings but not to comment

Q: Our library board is considering this policy. I just got it today after some wrangling. Do you, at first glance, see anything illegal?

“The Fulton County Public Library Board of Trustees will conduct its meetings in compliance with the state Open Door Law with Board Meetings open for public observation and recording. While not required by law to allow the public to speak at meetings, the Board values the ideas and insights of constituents and will allow ten (10) minutes of each Board Meeting for a public forum.

Persons will be allowed to speak only if they have completed the request form by submitting the online version of the form or by completing a paper copy of the form at the Rochester Branch of the library at least seven days in advance of the convening of the meeting. The Library Director shall create a standard request form for the public to utilize which shall contain at least the person’s name, the date the form was completed, and the matter the person wishes to address to the Board. The request form will be available at all Branches of the library and on the library’s website.

At the meeting, each person will be allowed a maximum of two (2) minutes to address the Board. The Board President will call on those persons one at a time to stand and address the Board for no more than the allocated time. Improper requests will not be permitted to be addressed to the Board. Improper requests include any matter which is confidential by state law, such as personnel issues, and matters that are not relevant to the Board. The Board may not respond at the meeting to questions, requests for information, or requests for action. Appropriate response may be made at a later time after Board Members have sufficient opportunity to consider and deliberate on the issue.

Constituents will not be allowed to comment during other portions of the Board Meeting unless comments are specifically requested by the Board. Board Members are always willing to hear from constituents outside the meeting, but meeting agendas are usually full and do not allow time for a continuous open forum.”

A: I don’t see anything illegal. They are correct that under the Open Door Law, the public does not have a right to speak, only observe and record. This policy sets the parameters so that the public will have 10 minutes to speak directly to the full board.

The policy is open for criticism as to its components – Is the timeframe for when a request is made too long, is the time allowed to speak too short, is a refusal to respond to any comments going to serve to antagonize the public, for example.

Bottom line: They aren’t required to allow any public comment under the law, so any policy is a plus. The Public Relations question for them is how the policy aligns with expectations of the community.

School board members’ private email accounts might be public record

Q: Are the emails of school board members public record? Can we request them through FIOA?

A: If the emails are school district email accounts, it’s an easy answer — yes.
If the email addresses are private accounts, then it depends upon the subject matter. If it concerns public business in their role as school board members, then you’d have an argument for disclosure that the state’s Public Access Counselor would probably agree with.

You don’t request them through FOIA (that’s the Freedom of Information Act, which one uses to obtain federal records). You request them through the Access to Public Records Act, which is Indiana’s law. (See I.C. 5-14-3)

Recommendation: Keep records on public notices for two years

Q: Do you know how long we are required to keep paperwork submit to us for Public Notices?

A: There isn’t a statutory requirement, but I recommend newspapers maintain the records on a specific notice for two years, That time frame generally covers the statute of limitations for most actions that could be brought in a civil case.

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

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