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Plan Commission’s Failure to Provide Minutes Draws Complaint from Banner
February 18, 2009 - The one thing the Knightstown Plan Commission evidently didn’t plan on was that the local newspaper would file a record request seeking copies of minutes from their meetings.
That’s exactly what happened, though. On Jan. 23, The Banner submitted a request to the KPC asking for minutes from a meeting held Jan. 12, as well as those from all meetings held in 2008. Four days later, the KPC’s president, Clyde South, faxed a brief reply to The Banner.
“We will forward the appropriate records in a timely fashion,” South’s reply said. “Since the secretary is in Florida and is not scheduled to return until the middle of April, the minutes of some meetings may be difficult to produce at this time. However, we will furnish those records as soon as possible.”
South, who is also a member of the Knightstown Town Council, sent a follow-up reply to The Banner the following week and included minutes from five KPC meetings. However, he said minutes from meetings held July 29 and Oct. 13 were not included because the KPC secretary, Erma Keller, was in Florida and he did not have copies of those minutes.
In its record request, The Banner had specifically asked the KPC to provide copies of memoranda -- notes that the Open Door Law (ODL) requires the KPC to create as their meetings are happening -- in the event minutes weren’t available. Instead of providing memoranda for the July 29 and Oct. 13 meeting, though, South instead offered “a brief synopsis of those meetings,” with the first synopsis totaling just 19 words, and the second 27 words.
While willing to give the KPC a reasonable amount of time to provide copies of the requested records, Banner owner and publisher Eric Cox decided it was too much for the KPC to expect the newspaper to wait until Keller returned from Florida in April. Believing the KPC had violated both the ODL and the state’s Access to Public Records Act by failing to provide copies of the minutes or memoranda from the July 29 and Oct. 13 meetings, Cox filed a formal complaint last Wednesday with Indiana’s public access counselor.
In The Banner’s complaint, Cox noted that the ODL requires meeting memoranda “to be available within a reasonable period of time after the meeting for the purpose of informing the public of the ... proceedings.” Additionally, when minutes are created, as they were for the KPC meetings, the ODL says they shall be “open for public inspection and copying.”
“The Banner believes that the KPC has violated the ODL and the APRA by not providing copies of the minutes ... within a reasonable amount of time from when The Banner requested them,” Cox said in the complaint. “Three weeks have gone by since these records were requested, and we believe both the ODL and the APRA require that records of this sort be provided in a much quicker fashion.” He noted that if the newspaper were required to wait until KPC Secretary Keller returned from Florida in April, as many as 11 to 12 weeks may have gone by since The Banner requested the records.
Cox also said he believed that the KPC had “violated the ODL by not keeping copies of its minutes and memoranda on file at Knightstown Town Hall,” which serves as the town’s government center and location of KPC meetings. “The minutes of KPC meetings are public records,” Cox told the PAC. “As such, copies should be kept on file at Knightstown Town Hall, so that they can be ‘open for public inspection and copying’ as required by the ODL, and so that timely responses may be made under the APRA.”
Because the July 29 and Oct. 13 minutes were not provided, Cox said in his complaint that the KPC should have provided copies of the memoranda from those meetings, as the newspaper had specifically requested. He said he thought this was another violation of the ODL and APRA and that he didn’t think the brief synopses South had provided of these meetings qualified as memoranda or included all the information the law requires to be documented by memoranda.
“(South) does not indicate the time and place of the meetings, the members who were present and absent, or a record of all votes taken,” Cox noted. “The Banner also believes it probable that his ‘brief synopsis’ also does not cover the ‘general substance of all matters proposed, discussed or decided,’ as the ODL requires.”
The office of Public Access Counselor Heather Neal has notified South of The Banner’s complaint and provided him with a copy. South was asked to provide a response, if he chooses to submit one, by Feb. 27, and Neal is expected to issue a formal opinion no later than March 13.
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