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 Health Board Postpones Meeting

August 13, 2008 - The Henry County Board of Health canceled a private executive session that had been scheduled for last Wednesday.

According to a public notice issued by the board, the Aug. 6 executive session was planned to discuss "prospects for funding" the county's local public health coordinator position. An attorney for the Hoosier State Press Association told The Banner on Aug. 4, however, that he thought this was a matter that needed to be discussed during a meeting open to the public.

The Banner e-mailed Henry County Health Dept. Administrator Doug Mathis on the afternoon of Aug. 4 expressing the newspaper's concerns about the executive session. Speaking to The Banner by phone the following day, Mathis said the Board of Health's legal counsel, New Castle attorney David Copenhaver, had also confirmed that an executive session was not appropriate in this circumstance.

The state's Open Door Law does permit public agencies to meet privately in executive session to discuss some personnel matters. However, according to HSPA General Counsel Steve Key, this was not one of those situations.

"Discussing prospects of funding a position without use of property tax dollars doesn't fit any of the exceptions allowing for an executive session that I can see," said Key, who regularly advises Indiana newspapers on issues involving the state's public access laws.

Key also said that the Board of Health's notice for its executive session had some other problems. First, he said the notice was deficient because it had not cited a specific statute in the Indiana Code that permitted them to meet privately in executive session. A second problem he noted was that the notice did not include a specific time for the public meeting that was to immediately follow the executive session.

"The open meeting time should be firm," said Key, "not an estimate." The Board of Health's notice estimated that the public meeting that would follow the executive session would begin at 7:15 p.m.

Mathis said the Board of Health had not intended to do anything inappropriate by scheduling the executive session. Once a new public meeting is scheduled to deal with this matter, he said proper notice will be issued.


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