Q&A: City council members meet privately

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From The Indianapolis Star:

Q: There may be an issue of four members of the Carmel City Council reportedly meeting in private to discuss various matters involving the mayor and the Carmel Redevelopment Commission.

If indeed there emerges some proof of these meetings, what are the ramifications if there is an Open Door Law violation in the course of debating a major action like this?

A: Four members of the Carmel City Council coming to a consensus may or may not be a violation depending upon how that consensus was reached.

If the four of them got together for a meeting or three at one meeting and one of the three then met with the fourth on the same subject matter within a specific time after the other meeting, you probably have a violation.

If the president had three separate discussions with the other three, I’d say there isn’t a violation.

If there was a violation, following are the ramifications:

• Bad publicity

• Opinion critical of their actions from the state public access counselor, if someone asks

If they don’t correct the situation after getting a PAC opinion saying they are in violation, they would open themselves up to a potential lawsuit where a plaintiff could seek:

• Declaratory judgment that they violated the law

• Injunction ordering them not to violate again (ignoring this order could lead to contempt of court)

• Request that any action taken by the council that is the fruit of an illegal meeting be declared null and void.

• With the change in the Open Door Law, if a judge found the violation was intentional, the four council members could be subject to a civil fine (up to $100 apiece since this would be their first violation).

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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