Email discussions do not violate Open Door Law — file a records request for the emails

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Have a question about access, public records or other issues? Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, skey@hspa.com or call 317-624-4427.

The following questions were submitted by the Francesville Tribune, The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat, Bluffton News-Banner:

Email discussions do not violate Open Door Law — file a records request for the emails

Q: I attended a meeting of the economic development board, which includes the Pulaski County Council president. He openly admitted to speaking with other council members over the phone and through email about holding a vote to eliminate a position from the economic development department. Is this a violation of the Open Door Law and what evidence can I gather on this situation? Should I file a complaint with the state’s Public Access Counselor?

A: Since the request was emailed, the seven days is the deadline to acknowledge your request and let you know what the sheriff intends to do – give you the requested records, deny the request or turn over to the attorney for review.

If it’s a denial, they have to cite the legal basis for the denial because the assumption is that public records are disclosable. The burden is on the sheriff to have a legal reason to deny you access. If the response is the attorney is reviewing, I’d press for a timeline on attorney’s decision.

If he’s going to give you the records, the question is when. The statute says records must be made available in a “reasonable” time. What’s reasonable depends on the complexity of the request, how the records are stored, will they need redaction, etc.

If the jailer was fired, the sheriff should be providing records out of the personnel file that relate to the reason for the termination. See I.C. 5-14-3-4 (b)(8)(C).

As to HIPAA, the sheriff isn’t a medical provider who bills electronically, so HIPPA doesn’t apply, but medical records are confidential in general.

Building permits are disclosable public records, agencies must cite legal basis for denial

Q: Are building permits a matter of public record? I talked to the city building inspector and they willingly gave me the building permits issued, but when I talked to the county building inspector he was not so willing.
He said he had a bad experience when he gave permit copies to someone and they solicited jobs from the home builders using that list. He told me he turns them into the County Assessor. So I called the assessor’s office, I was told they only keep the permits on file and have no actual list they could give me. What would be my next option, if any?

A: Yes, building permits are a disclosable public record, which means you should be able to inspect or obtain a copy. I’m confused about the Assessor’s response? What does he/she mean when saying they are on file, but don’t have anything they can give you? Perhaps, he/she means they don’t have a list prepared of the permits, only the permits themselves.

If it’s a paper record on file, that can easily be pulled for inspection or copying. If it’s an electronic record, it still should be in a format that can be viewed on the computer screen or printed out for a copy.

Make a request for copies of the permits (if there isn’t a list) under the Access to Public Records Act. They’ll have to either give them to you or deny you access. Make the request in writing, but hand deliver it. That’ll reduce the response time but still make them give you a legal basis for a denial (code citation) that we can check.

If you are denied, the next step would be to seek an opinion from the state’s Public Access Counselor.

To be considered a political ad, text must advocate defeat, victory

Q: I need guidance on a political ad. A group called “Friends of Parlor City Team” (unorganized group of business owners that get together to discuss politics) wants to place an ad encouraging people to vote. They are not naming a party or candidate. Is “paid for by Friends of Parlor City Team” sufficient as a disclaimer, or do we need to include a name or someone involved?

A: If the ad just urges people to vote, then it doesn’t fall under the requirement of a disclaimer for a political ad. To be considered a political ad, the text must advocate the defeat or victory of a candidate or candidates.

Any disclaimer requirement for the get-out-the vote ad would be a policy of the newspaper, not a legal requirement. they would have an attorney who knows annexation law and might be willing to help. It’s free publicity for them.

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