Saturday, October 26, 2013
Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana education board suit raises serious questions about Open Door Law"
That is the heading to Lesley Weidenbener's very smart Sunday column in the Louisville Courier Journal. After relating the facts leading up to State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz' lawsuit against the State Board of Education, Weidenbener continues:
I feel confident in saying that those who wrote and passed the state’s Open Door Law intended for boards and commissions to take action in meetings — not outside them — and that those meetings are open to the public.For more, see three ILB entries, the first, from the morning of Oct. 23rd, ends with the ILB comment: " So can we say the last paragraph here outlines a new way to evade the Open Meeting law? Just as would indicating the site of a meeting in the public notice as 'the Chicago airport'"? The second, from the evening of the 23rd, attempts to follow the sequence of events. And the third, from Oct. 24th, contains a good quote about “round-robin emails.”
The law is clear about a few things: Official action is a broad term that includes deliberating, making recommendations, establishing policy and making decisions. It’s also clear that government boards — city councils, county commissions, state boards and others — must give the public notice that a meeting will occur and then post an agenda of what’s to be discussed or acted on.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to interpret these and other parts of the law. And my purpose here is not to determine whether the State Board of Education violated that law.
But if a judge decides what the board did is legal, it could set a dangerous precedent for other public groups and may call for legislators to rethink the Open Door Law.
After all, what would stop city council members from simply circulating a letter to approve a contract for snow removal? Or why couldn’t the Indiana Gaming Commission vote to discipline a blackjack dealer who broke the rules by just emailing the proposed punishment around to members?
For that matter, why would a board ever really need to meet again at all if the members could take care of business through email?
Sound extreme? Of course it does. And the action taken by 10 members of the State Board of Education was nothing like approving a contract, spending money or issuing a penalty.
The members requested that the legislative branch get involved in a Department of Education function. They didn’t even have the authority to demand that lawmakers get involved.
Still, there’s a reason these types of actions are supposed to take place in public.
In a democracy, constituents and the media are responsible for holding their elected officials — and often appointed officials — accountable for their actions. That’s tough to do if the public can’t see the actions taking place.
In addition, most government bodies let the public weigh in before they take action. That won’t happen when the decision is made through an email exchange.
So this case is one to watch — not just because of the impact it could have on education and state politics. It’s also about the public’s right to know and it could affect every layer of government in Indiana.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 26, 2013 07:53 PM
Posted to Indiana Government