Q&A: Publication of building permits

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From the North Manchester News-Journal:

Q: We recently attempted to begin publication of building permits in our county. The planning commission office originally denied our request until the commission’s board held a meeting.

The board members decided they would allow us to publish the summary of all building permits; however, they would not allow any names, addresses, dollar amounts, or types of permits to be published.

Shouldn’t these records be available for publication? If so, what are our options in acquiring this information if the attorney will not respond and the board refuses to accommodate our request?

A: I don’t believe the county has any basis to deny you access to the building permits. They are public records, and I’m aware of no statutory basis for redaction or denial.

It appears you’ve reached the point where I would suggest you request a formal opinion on the availability of the permits from state Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage.

You can reach him at pac@icpr.state.in.us or at (800) 228-6013.

He may refer you to the state’s public access counselor website, www.in.gov/pac, to download a form to make the request.

Once you have his opinion, which I believe will be in your favor, use it to try and convince the county that it’s OK to make the information available.

If they still don’t comply with the request (assuming the law is in your favor), your only option would be to file a lawsuit asking a judge to order them to comply.

By going through the public access counselor first, if you then prevail in court, the judge would be required to order the county to reimburse you for reasonable court costs and attorney fees.

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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