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Editorial: Public benefits from Ivy Tech’s revisions to meeting notices

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The public will have greater knowledge of what the Ivy Tech Community College State Board of Trustees and the Columbus Region 10 Board of Trustees discuss in private because of recent changes to meeting notices.

That’s a victory for transparency and the public’s right to know.

Ivy Tech had been criticized by Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, who stated that it was using a “poor practice” by issuing notices of state board executive sessions that were not specific about topics to be covered. Since early 2012, notices generally listed that “some or all of” the same nine topics would be discussed: litigation, security systems, purchase of property, safety measures, prospective employees, alleged misconduct, classified records, job performance and board training.

By indicating “some or all” of these nine topics could be covered in private, the public really had no idea what was going to be discussed.

The state’s largest public postsecondary institution offered no transparency with that practice, which came across as if the board was trying to keep secret what it would be discussing — in an already private meeting.

Britt wrote that while the “some or all” practice is not illegal, he didn’t think it complied with the spirit of the state’s notification requirements.

Initially, Steve Schreckengast, Ivy Tech state board chairman, said he supported the practice. And, school spokesman Jeff Fanter issued a statement saying that the board notices had been transparent and the board would continue to follow state public access laws.

Now the college agrees with the public access counselor.

Its notice for the state board’s Feb. 5 meeting lists six agenda items for the executive session, provides some detail of them and excludes the “some or all” wording.

“The (public access counselor) did opine that certain language in the notice may be problematic as a matter of practice, but not law. Ivy Tech agrees with the (public access counselor) and will strike the ‘some or all’ language going forward. Ivy Tech will analyze for each executive session the enumerated executive session topics and list those topics that will be discussed to ensure that legal compliance with the Act continues while avoiding ‘boilerplate’ as a best practice on the counsel of the (public access counselor)” Fanter wrote Thursday in an email to The Republic.

Notices for meetings of the Columbus Region 10 Board of Trustees are becoming more transparent, too. Its old notices of board meetings stated a time, date and location “to consider and take action on such items as may be brought before them.” Local Ivy Tech spokesman Randy Proffitt said those notices served for both executive sessions and regular meetings and didn’t specify a separate executive session.

“We did not highlight executive sessions, and we should have,” he said.

That also is changing. Notices of executive sessions and regular meetings now will be specific.

For example, notice of the Jan. 30 regular meeting specified that topics on the agenda included financial report, enrollment report, Express Enrollment bid opening resolution, Ivy Tech Foundation update and other business.

Proffitt said executive session notices would be just as detailed and list specific topics.

“The whole intent is to be transparent to the public,” he said.

Its actions back that up. So, too, will the state board’s.

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