PRINCETON — Gibson County Advisory Plan Commission members violated the Indiana Open Door Law by not posting a copy of a Feb. 28 meeting notice or a copy of the agenda used at that meeting, according to an opinion issued by Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.
The opinion was distributed Monday to attorney John R. Molitor, who filed a formal complaint March 27.
Molitor alleged in his complaint that he was invited to speak at a meeting of the APC scheduled Feb. 28, but on arrival, could not find the notice posted on the building’s bulletin board and could not find an agenda for the hearing.
In the opinion, Britt reported that Molitor believed an agenda was in use, since “the chairperson invited speakers to testify at certain times, according to a schedule he appeared to be using.”
In an April 6 response to Molitor’s complaint, attorney Mike Schopmeyer wrote that APC counsel failed to photograph the notice posted alongside the agenda for the public meeting Feb. 28 at the North Annex meeting chambers, but said it is the traditional practice to document posting notices and agendas by taking a photograph. He enclosed a photo of a notice and agenda taken prior to a Feb. 5 public hearing.
Schopmeyer’s response says copies of the agendas used at public meetings are distributed at meetings, which are open, recorded and livestreamed. He said copies of documents used by the APC are shared upon request.
“It was not the APC’s intent to violate the Open Door Law if copies of the notice and agenda were not posted at the APC’s February 28 meeting as alleged by Mr. Molitor,” he wrote.
Schopmeyer said in the response that Feb. 28 meeting was mainly for the purpose of hearing information from guest speakers, and the only action other than receiving information was to cancel a previously announced March 3 session. He said the APC made no material decisions at the meeting regarding a proposed zoning ordinance.
In the response, Schopmeyer reported the APC intends to conduct at least one more public hearing before taking any action regarding the proposed zoning ordinance, and notice will be posted. “Any alleged abuses of the APC can be rectified at these meetings should a violation be found,” he wrote.
Britt’s opinion notes that the APC is subject to the Indiana Open Door Law regarding public meetings to take official action upon public business. He notes in the opinion that the law says “official action” includes:
1. receiving information
3. making recommendations
4. establishing policy
5. making decisions
6. or taking final action.
Britt noted that the law requires any public agency that uses an agenda to post a copy at the entrance to the location of the meeting, prior to the meeting.
“While the Open Door Law requirements are not to be taken lightly, it is always appreciated by this office when an agency recognizes a potential oversight and vows to rectify the noncompliance for future meetings,” he wrote. “The APC does not appear to be overly defensive or argumentative nor has information been submitted suggesting this is a systemic problem,” he wrote. “Therefore, I trust they will act according to the law in the future. As a gentle reminder, it matters not that only official action was taken on public business and a vote or other final action did not occur, the requirements of the law nevertheless apply,” he wrote.
A public hearing planned at the Gibson County Fairgrounds Toyota Events Center in March was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on mass gatherings. The APC has not yet given notice of a new date for that hearing or any other meetings.
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