Q&A: Notice of public meetings inadequate

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From The Star-Press (Muncie):

Q: The Delaware County Board of Commissioners gave us notice of an executive session that just contains the code citation – I.C. 5-14-1.5-6. Is that sufficient notice, or do they need to include an explanation as to the subject matter?

On a related note, our county health board routinely issues notice of its meetings with a note that the meeting will start with an executive session. There is no time given as to when the public meeting will begin. Is this proper notice?  

A: In both situations, the notice doesn’t meet the intent of the Open Door Law.

The commissioners’ notice misses the mark on a couple of fronts.

First, there is no section 6 to the Open Door Law – the reference should have been to section 6.1, which lists the subjects that can be discussed behind closed doors.

Secondly, the code citation should be more specific. There are 14 different subject matters listed under section 6.1. The commissioners need to let people know why they are closing the doors on the public.

The views of Indiana’s public access counselors have consistently stated the preference that both the code citation and text should be included in notices of executive session so that the public doesn’t have to track down the Indiana code to determine the purpose for the closed-door meeting.

As for the health board, it misses the mark by attempting to use one notice to cover two meetings. The executive session and open meeting are separate, and the notice of when those meetings start needs to be noted.

For example, the executive session can start at 7 p.m., but there needs to be a stated time for the beginning of the open meeting; otherwise, the public has no clue as to when they should arrive to observe the meeting.

The newspaper needs to help educate both boards on how to give proper notice.

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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