The city of Columbus has begun providing public notice of committee meetings, as required under Indiana’s Open Door Law, after an advisory opinion issued by the state’s public access counselor.
The opinion was a reply to an informal inquiry by former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, who contended that the Columbus Redevelopment Commission violated Indiana’s Open Door Law by failing to make public three redevelopment commission committee meetings.
Brown claimed the committees were used to review proposals for infrastructure projects. She said the panels were responsible for receiving information, deliberating and making recommendations for three specific projects, the Riverfront Project, the Railroad Project and the State Street Implementation Project.
On Oct. 5, 2016, the commission responded to the complaint, saying neither the redevelopment commission nor its president appointed the non-redevelopment member to the project committees and no official action had been taken by the commission to appoint any of its own members.
The matter was previously considered by the public access counselor’s office May 23, 2016, with the office ruling that the subcommittee in question was composed of only one member of the redevelopment commission and was formed by the city’s director of redevelopment, who is not a member of the commission.
In the latest analysis, Public Access Counselor Luke Britt points out that the committees in question were appointed by Brown during the previous administration, when the former mayor served as both mayor and president of the redevelopment commission.
“The committees were not dissolved under the new administration and continued their original purpose,” Britt wrote.
He goes on to say, however, that an email dated Jan. 25, 2015, from Sarah Cannon, redevelopment commission president, says that each project’s work will include definition, determination of resources needed, request for resources and recommendations, with the commission having purview over the committee or subcommittee actions.
In light of that communication, Britt ruled that he considered the committees to be standing governing bodies that are subject to the Open Door Law even though they are not necessarily created to take final action or make binding action but are taking official action on public business.
Britt said that even though the committees were formed under Brown’s administration, the nature of their existence was not changed by the new administration of Mayor Jim Lienhoop.
Brown said she filed the initial complaint based on the response the state had given to original complaints filed by Columbus residents Dave Jones and Ken Fudge over open access and notice.
The informal opinion Britt issued was in response to new and additional information Brown provided to the public access counselor, she said.
Lienhoop said the ruling shows the public access counselor never indicated that the city had done anything wrong and the advisory opinion does not carry any penalty.
Since the response to Brown’s inquiry, however, Lienhoop said the city has been providing public notice of the committee meetings as required under Indiana’s Open Meetings Law.
Lienhoop said the public is welcome at any time to attend any of the committee meetings.
Brown said while the media is receiving notice of committee meetings from the city, as is required by the law, she also hopes that the meetings will be included on the city’s calendar on its website, for people who don’t see notices in the newspaper.
Indiana’s statute would not require the committee meetings to be listed on the city’s online calendar, but that would be helpful to city residents, she said.
In March, the city listed a Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Technical Committee meeting and also listed an Audit and Review Committee meeting in April on the online calendar.