The Washington Times-Herald

October 10, 2012

State public access officials hold panel

By Andrea McCann
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — A panel of three experts visited Washington Tuesday evening to talk about Indiana’s Open Door Law and Public Access to Public Records Act.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage, Deputy Attorney General Anne Mullin O’Connor, and Executive Director and General Counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association Steve Key talked about the public’s legal rights to obtain public records and attend government meetings. They also discussed the obligation of government agencies to provide records and access to meetings.

O’Connor started out by saying the Open Door Law governs meetings in Indiana.

“It doesn’t mean the door has to be open,” she said, explaining some people have taken the law’s name literally. “It means the public must be able to attend.”

She said not all meetings are covered by the Open Door Law. For example, executive meetings are an exception. However, according to O’Connor, certain criteria must be met to be considered an executive meeting.

“It was very interesting, especially when they started talking about the Open Door Law and executive sessions,” said Washington City Council President Allen Brown.

He said he learned that, for instance, an executive meeting cannot be held to discuss a broad range of personnel issues. Only specific personnel issues can be covered in executive sessions. He said he also learned the state statute applicable to executive sessions must be given in the meeting announcement.

“I didn’t know much about requesting records,” Brown said. “It was interesting to learn about fees for copies and accident reports.”

He said the city only within the past year or so began to charge those fees because of an increased number of requests.

A discussion on the availability of memoranda and minutes from meetings also interested Brown. He said he was unaware memoranda was required from the city council meetings, but minutes aren’t necessarily.

“I was curious when they were talking about memoranda,” he said. “A recording can be memoranda.”

He said he listens to the recorded minutes on the city website, but still likes to have minutes to keep and refer back to.

“I thought it was a very good meeting,” Brown said.

Other topics touched on what is concerned a governing body and a meeting, giving notice of upcoming meetings, the public’s right to speak at a meeting, what must be included in meeting memoranda, what types of records are available to the public, how to request records, what to do if violation of the law is suspected, new legislation on public access, the obligations of public agencies when records are requested, information that may or may not be included in public records, and how long records must be kept.

A diverse audience attended the meeting, including a number of attorneys and reporters from out of town. Hosted by the Times Herald and held at City Council Chambers, the two-hour session was sponsored by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, the Indiana Public Access Counselor’s Office and Hoosier State Press Association.

It counted as continuing education for attorneys and law enforcement officials.