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Friday, April 14, 2017

Environment - Wild deer herds reported dwindling in Indiana; DNR bonus antlerless deer rule an issue

"Group forms to address Dubois County's dwindling deer herd" is the headline to this long story by Leann Burke in the Jasper Herald (here as republished in the Indiana Economic Digest). A few quotes:

HUNTINGBURG — Jason Messmer of Pike County remembers seeing 10 deer a day on his land prior to 2008. Now, he said, he barely sees one.

Messmer, who deer hunts in both Dubois and Pike counties, attributes the population drop to the epizootic hemorrhagic disease that hit the deer herd in 2008 and to the bonus antlerless deer the Indiana Department of Natural Resources allows hunters to kill each year. Messmer and several other hunters gathered Wednesday for the first Dubois County Deer Advisory Council meeting to voice their concerns about the shrinking deer population in the area.

“These (bonus antlerless deer quotas) are in my opinion out of this world high and need to be dropped,” Messmer said. * * *

The council is focusing on managing the deer herd through the bonus antlerless quotas that allow additional does above regular quotas to be killed during the hunting season. Under 2016 quotas, hunters were allowed to kill one antlered deer — or buck — throughout the entire hunting season, up to two antlerless deer during archery season and one antlerless deer during muzzleloader season. Hunters could kill up to three antlerless deer total over the entire hunting season. The bonus antlerless deer quota allows each hunter to kill additional does during the season, and the quota varies county to county. In 2016, each hunter with a Dubois County license was allowed an additional four does. The majority of attendees at the Dubois County Deer Advisory Council agreed that an additional four is too many. According to an online survey the council is running and an in-person vote at the meeting last night, 141 of the 151 respondents favored lowering the bonus antlerless deer quota, with the majority of those in favor of only one bonus deer allowed. * * *

Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management got the idea for the county councils from Wisconsin. Barton said Wisconsin has had an advisory council in each county for years and has seen success. The organization got permission to set up a pilot program in Indiana this year. So far, the group has set up 10 county deer advisory councils.

Gary Walters with Indiana Whitetail Deer Herd Management encouraged attendees of Wednesday’s meeting to contact legislators and share their opinion on county deer advisory councils. Right now, he said, IWDHM is fighting for the councils to exist and for the DNR to take input from the councils seriously.

“Whether you like it or not,” he said, “this is a political problem.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Friday, April 14, 2017
Posted to Environment

Ind. Law - "Hammond police nab man after introducing new technology"

Sarah Reese reported yesterday in the NWI Times:

HAMMOND — Police began using a new technology intended to target possible criminal activity and within an hour arrested a man carrying a loaded gun on drug charges, according to a news release.

Two Hammond police cars equipped with license plate readers hit the streets Friday. LPRs scan passing license plates and alert officers of any potential violations.

The car-mounted LPRs are the first to arrive in Hammond, which plans to install more than 30 additional pole-mounted cameras later this spring, officials said.

On Friday, within the first hour on the road, an LPRs automated system alerted police that the registered owner of a vehicle near them had a suspended driver's license, according to a statement from Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.

Police completed a manual check, confirming the information, and noticed the description of the owner matched the driver of the vehicle. Police stopped the vehicle in the 6500 block of Indianapolis Boulevard.

Police smelled marijuana after approaching the driver and saw a bag of suspected marijuana near him, the release said.

The driver was arrested, and police found a loaded pistol in his waistband with an extended magazine with 22 rounds of ammunition and laser-sighting device, officials said.

Here is a 2012 NWI Times story about when Portage got the same equipment.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Friday, April 14, 2017
Posted to Indiana Law

Ind. Gov't. - New PAC opinion on access to county records on a law firm engagement; how would the $20/hour fee have impacted this request?

Here are quotes from a 2-page opinion of the Public Access Counselor from March 27, 2017:

Killbuck Concerned Citizens Association (“KCCA”) since 2006 has made multiple requests to the Board for documentation regarding the representation of the law firm now known as Bingham, Greenebaum, Doll, LLP (“Firm”). The most recent request dated November 17, 2016 requests the following: “Any and all meeting minutes in which discussion and/or approval of the retention of the firm dated prior to December 31, 2006 with original signatures of parties approving.”

This search for documentation of the Firm’s retention extends back to 2006. It culminated with a May 24, 2016 response from The Board’s attorney stating, “I have closely reviewed all Commissioners minutes from 2006 until this date, and find no reference to the authorization of hiring [Firm].” The Complainant therefore contends the retention of the Firm was unlawful and that minutes would have to exist memorializing a final action of the Board authorization the retention. * * *

Engagement letters between public agencies and law firms are typical documents which exist when a contractual agreement for representation is executed. Nothing in the law mandates this documentation, however, it is best practice and more often than not, it is indeed created. Likewise, when a public agency hires a firm, final action in the form of a vote at a public meeting is standard practice. It stands to reason documents exist memorializing this transaction and therefore I share the Complainant’s skepticism no such record was ever created and a large firm would commence representation without an engagement letter.

It appears as if the Board’s current county counsel has searched the Board’s meeting minute archives and can find no indication of such an authorization. The Board did invite the Complainants to manually inspect the meeting minutes for themselves, which is best practice when a request is generally too broad. The Board’s argument the original requests lacked reasonable particularity is well received. Some of the requests made since 2006 are merely requests for information and not a specific document. Based on the facts provided, however, the Complainants have provided sufficient information to pinpoint the document(s) they are seeking: an authorization from the Board to hire a law Firm (an engagement letter, fee agreement, contract etc.); and/or a meeting minute from 2006 indicating final action was taken by the Board to procure the Firm’s services. These are typical documents housed by public agencies in the ordinary course of business. Therefore, I am not compelled by the reasonable particularity argument in this case.

To the extent the Complainant asks this Office to find a violation based upon the non-existence of a record, I cannot do so. There is an inference documentation should exist, however, the law does not allow this Office to mandate the creation of this kind of record. Similarly, there is an inference a meeting minute should reflect a vote to hire the Firm on a fee-for-services arrangement. But again, if such an action was taken to retain the firm by a single Board member or another county attorney (as the Complainants suggest), such matters of procurement are beyond the scope of this Office’s jurisdiction. If authorization documentation does exist, poor record keeping and retention is not an issue unique to this situation.

One step that has not been taken to my knowledge, however, is for either party to ask the Firm for its records of engagement, invoices, or fee arrangements likely housed in its own files in-house. Copies of these documents would be public record albeit maintained by a third-party private contractor. Knightstown Banner v. Town of Knightstown, 838 N.E.2d 1127 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005). Based on prior experience, I am confident this particular Firm is well-versed in good record keeping principles and accounting best practices during the course of representing public entities.

RECOMMENDATIONS. To the extent that the Madison County Board of Commissioners truly does not have any documentation from the 2006 retention of the Firm in its files, it should request those records from that Firm and provide them to the Complainant within a reasonable time.

ILB: So this group has been trying since 2006 to obtain a public record, the contract between the Board of Commissioners and its outside law firm, or evidence of the contract's approval in the Board's minutes. The Board's counsel claims no such documents can be found. "The Complainant therefore contends the retention of the Firm was unlawful and that minutes would have to exist memorializing a final action of the Board authorization the retention." The PAC concludes that the Board: "should request those records from that Firm and provide them to the Complainant within a reasonable time."

My thought as I read this account of a very reasonable request for public records, that has been outstanding since 2006 and remains unfulfilled: How much would the concerned citizens group have been billed, at the rate of $20 per hour, to finally secure these engagement records?

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Friday, April 14, 2017
Posted to Indiana Government