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Editorial: Open door policy for public as well as press

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Each December, newspapers across the Hoosier state — including The Republic — mail letters to a variety of local and state government agencies and schools, outlining requests that those agencies inform them and their readers of planned meeting times in the coming year.

Mailing such a letter is part of Indiana’s Open Door Law, a responsibility we take seriously.

Just as the law requires governmental agencies notify the public of meeting times, the law also requires that newspapers mail letters requesting notification of updates and additions to those schedules by Dec. 31 each year.

Again, that’s a responsibility we and our parent company, Home News Enterprises, take seriously, and we’re pleased to report that local compliance with that request appears strong each year, so strong, in fact, that some agencies occasionally send us their schedules of meetings even before we mail the request. Now that’s compliance. The others respond within days if not sooner.

Years ago, we simply made note of any changes from the last year, made reporters aware of the meeting times and used them to report in advance on upcoming meetings.

For several years now we have used these schedules in compiling a regular county calendar that informs the public of the meeting times and places of governmental bodies. The times and places seldom change, but it is important that the public have reminders.

To this latter point, it is also important to reaffirm the intent of the Open Door Law. It is not limited to the media but to the public as a whole. If you have trouble with access to public meetings or public records, let us know or contact the Indiana public access counselor, Luke Britt, at 800-228-6013.

The access counselor is not a sheriff and has no power to enforce the laws. But the counselor mediates disputes by giving advisory opinions that often resolve the issues, avoiding lengthy and costly court fights.

Britt is responsible for advising and assisting members of the public, government officials and employees regarding public access laws (specifically the Access to Public Records Act and the Open Door Law), according to the office’s website. He graduated from Franklin College in 2002 with a degree in journalism, and he’s also worked inside government.

Gov. Frank O’Bannon created the office by executive order in 1998 after a statewide collaboration of seven newspapers found great obstacles in obtaining government information in Indiana. The General Assembly then created the office by statute in 1999.

The Open Door legislation need not be seen by public officials as a piece of adversary legislation, pitting them against elements of the media.

While it is the media’s responsibility to keep an eye on public agencies and inform the public, it is important for both the media and public officials to recognize that the real goal is to conduct the business of the people in full view of them.

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