Q&A: Board of Works executive session

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From News-Times (Hartford City:

Q: The city Board of Works conducted an executive session to discuss a personnel issue. Immediately following the executive session, the board had an open meeting, where members voted to take no action for the alleged employee misconduct. Does the board have to reveal who the employee was?

A: I hope the initial notice of the executive session was more specific than “personnel issue.”

Otherwise it would fail to meet requirements under the Open Door Law.

But assuming the notice was correct and that the executive session was for receiving information about alleged misconduct of an employee – [See IC 5-14-1.5-6.1(b)(6)] – the Board of Works would have had a legal basis for the executive session. At this session members could have listened to the evidence and determined whether action was warranted.

The policy rationale is to allow a governing body to hear about allegations in private to protect the reputation of the employee in the event that the allegation is unsubstantiated.

The General Assembly didn’t want to create a situation where a government entity has to publicly acknowledge that a teacher, for example, has been accused of having an improper relationship with a student, having the story run on the front page of the local newspaper, and then determining that there was nothing to it.

The damage to the teacher’s reputation would have already occurred.

With this policy in mind, the Board of Works would be within the scope of the Open Door Law to vote (take a final action) in the open meeting to declare that no disciplinary action was warranted without revealing who had been investigated.

If they voted to take a disciplinary action, I would argue that the name of the individual who is to be punished should be included.

Citizens have a right to know about misconduct of public employees and the punishment delivered so they can determine whether the level of punishment was too severe, appropriate for the misdeed, or overly harsh.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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