Q&A: Public information about resignation

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From the Kokomo Tribune:

Q: The chancellor of Indiana University Kokomo stepped down last week. It was sudden, and the university won’t say anything about it. It’s become clear that he was forced to resign. Students and instructors told us he was locked out of his office and escorted off school grounds by campus police.

Is there is any information I can make a public information request for to shed some light on the situation? 

A: It all hinges on whether he was fired or resigned. Under the state Access to Public Records Act, personnel files can be kept confidential at the discretion of government units.

Almost universally, they use that discretion to keep the records secret. They aren’t required to do so, but they usually choose to do so.

But if a state or local government employee is suspended, demoted or fired, the public has the right to inspect and copy records from that individual’s personnel file that outline the discipline taken or concern the factual basis for the discipline.

What I suspect happened is that IU officials confronted the chancellor with whatever information created the crisis and offered him the option of resigning or being fired. Knowing a resignation looks better on a resume that a dismissal, and perhaps knowing that the details would become public if he was fired, he probably agreed to resign.

You can always ask for the records under the provision that opens the file if he was fired, but if officials claim it was a resignation, they’ll probably deny your request.

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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