City Council violated state's Open Door Law

By The Paper staff

The Wabash City Council violated the Indiana Open Door Law last week when it interviewed six potential candidates for the Wabash City Schools Board in executive session.

Editor Joseph Slacian, in an email Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 29, to several city and Council officials, raised concerns about interviews. The email was sent after consulting with Steve Key, attorney for the Hoosier State Press Association.

A story about the interviews appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 28, edition of the Wabash Plain Dealer. However, Key said notification must be given to all media outlets requesting such notification. The Paper received no such notification.

In addition, the interviews with prospective school board candidates must be conducted in open session, according to the Open Door Law. Since the Paper received no notification of the meeting, it is unknown whether it took place in open session.

Slacian sent notice to Mayor Scott Long, City Attorney Randi Zimmerman-Irgang, as well as Council President Doug Adams and Council member Bryan Dillon, who serves as liaison between the Council and the City Schools board, about the violation.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt confirmed the violations in a telephone interview Monday morning, Dec. 4, with The Paper of Wabash County.

“In my estimation they didn’t meet the requirements for holding those interviews in an open meeting,” Britt said. “In my view, in my interpretation of the law, it’s pretty clear that those interviews should have been done in a public meeting.”

Britt said the Council could meet in executive session to discuss the six applications “and narrow it down to three potential applicants, or position appointees, rather.”

“And then,” he continued, “they need to go into public meeting and actually interview those three and then take a vote subsequent to those interviews.”

The Paper asked officials to rectify the situation by conducting the interviews again, in open session, after having given proper notification to the media and the public. If the situation wasn’t rectified, The Paper was prepared to file a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor’s office.

“After a lengthy discussion, we concluded that in this instance we have a different interpretation of the open door policy,” Zimmerman-Irgang wrote in the letter.

Asked to clarify who “we” was, she said, “I believe that we all have a different interpretation.”

She did say that Britt offered a compromise for the Council.

“Mr. Britt believes that the best way to remedy the situation is to present the applications of the six candidates, discuss in an open forum (City Council meeting) why four of the candidates were excluded and why two remain,” Zimmerman-Irgang wrote. “After discussion, the council will vote to finalize the chosen members.”

Slacian believes that Britt’s compromise suggestion is acceptable.

“For years, the Council has been hesitant to release this information, even though it is public record,” he said. “Mr. Britt’s suggestion will make the Council be forthcoming with information it has tried not to release in past years.”

While not admitting to any wrongdoing on the City or the Council’s part, Zimmerman-Irgang did write, “Based on Mr. Britt’s interpretation of the open door policy, the City of Wabash, in the future, may consider amending its present procedures for future school board appointees.”

Britt, questioned about the attorney’s statement, said, “As far as changing the policy, I don’t know what their policy is now, but if their policy is to hold it behind closed doors, then it definitely needs to be changed.”

Posted on 2017 Dec 05