Q&A: Public access to committee meetings

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From the South Bend Tribune:

Q: Century Center in South Bend is a public facility with a board of directors that is a public agency. We go to their meetings, get notice for them, etc. They have a committee that they have appointed some of their members to. They argue their meetings are not public because they take no action on public business. Our contention is that the meetings should be public because they receive information, make recommendations, etc.

This committee made an appointment to visit the South Bend Regional Museum of Art’s board of directors about a sculpture garden that they are unhappy with. The museum is a private entity, although it takes public funds and uses space inside the public building, Century Center, so we have the same argument with them as we do with Downtwon South Bend and other economic development corp.-type groups as far as the whole public/private hybrid in that we think they should be more open, and they think they shouldn’t.

We found out that the Century Center committee is planning to speak to the art board this afternoon about the sculpture garden. Since the committee is a public body (which we’ll need to argue with them about) and this is an intentional visit to the art board and not a chance meeting, is this a meeting of the Century Center Committee subject to the Open Door Law? Our information indicates the entire committee, and thus a quorum, will be attending.

A: I agree that the committee is subject to the Open Door Law, since it was created and/or appointed by the board of directors, which it appears both sides agree is subject to the state’s access laws. [See IC 5-14-1.5-2(b)(3)]

The committee’s meeting with the Museum of Art’s board of directors fits into the definition of official action because they either will receive information or make recommendations in the course of the meeting.

I would argue that the museum board should either accommodate public access to the meeting during the portion of that meeting where members talk with the committee or the committee should announce its own meeting and invite the museum board to that public meeting.

Either way, the discussion should be open to the public. The museum board isn’t required by law to open its meeting, but the committee is prohibited from meeting in secret on this subject matter.

The other option would be for the committee to have a representative visit the museum board, not quorum of the board.

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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