August 20, 2014

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Columns
Mental health and suicide PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Stanczykiewicz   
Thursday, August 14, 2014 9:22 AM

The recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams sheds lights on an often silent struggle with depression that many face.  It’s a battle many Indiana teens fight, as well.  In fact, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young Hoosiers between the ages of 15 and 24.  Indiana also has the nation’s highest rate of students who have contemplated suicide and the country’s second highest rate of high school students who have attempted suicide.  Please consider running an updated version of the op-ed column on suicide prevention by the Indiana Youth Institute (below) to build awareness about this difficult and complex topic.

Terre Haute native Tommy John understands all too well how the pain of depression can lead a talented entertainer like Robin Williams to commit suicide.

Like Williams, John achieved national fame, posting 288 victories as a major league baseball pitcher. But one opponent was too strong to overcome: his son's mental illness, which remains a prevalent challenge for Indiana youth.

Taylor John, whose theater credits included appearing on Broadway as Gavroche in "Les Miserables," ended his life four years ago by overdosing on prescription drugs. He was 28 years old.

"He was a very talented, outgoing, funny young man (who would) laugh and sing," Tommy John recalled. "He had the most beautiful voice. Perfect pitch."

And Taylor also had mental illness. His dad described him as "obsessive compulsive," and "then he was diagnosed as being bipolar, manic depressive. He was diagnosed when he was in his twenties. When he was younger, we had no idea."

The lack of diagnosis and treatment earlier in Taylor's life is all too common in Indiana. Nearly 20 percent of Hoosier youth have mental health needs. However, half of those children between the ages of 0-5, and one-third of those youth between the ages of 12-17, do not receive professional care for their mental health challenges.

Not coincidentally, Indiana has the nation's highest rate of students who have contemplated suicide (19 percent) and the country's second highest rate of high school students who have attempted suicide (11 percent). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Hoosiers between the ages of 15-24.

Young people with mental illness are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and struggle with school or work. While feelings of sadness are normal, persistent sadness – lasting two weeks or more – can be a sign of depression which, if left untreated, may lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressful life events can increase the possibility of suicide. Examples include the death of a loved one, a relationship breakup, financial insecurity, school difficulties or a violent family environment. In addition, youth who identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.

Bob Coles, vice president of clinical services for Meridian Services, a statewide mental health care provider based in Muncie, alerts parents, educators and youth workers to watch for warning signs of mental illness and suicidal tendencies. The list includes changes in behavior or attitude such as a child who becomes moody, angry or withdrawn. Other potential indicators include changes in appetite or sleeping habits, a decline in spending time with friends and a loss of interest in hobbies or other favorite activities.

"Be aware of those kinds of changes, and then talk with your child about what is going on," Coles advised. "If you feel like these are behaviors that are significant, or if the behaviors are persistent, then it's a good idea to get (professional) help."

If the situation is urgent, call 911 or take your child to the hospital emergency room. Assistance also is available on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.

Coles explained that doctors are improving their ability to detect and treat mental illness.  "Health care professionals are being educated to look for emotional factors that may be tied to the physical problem that is going on. They then are incorporating additional help such as (mental health) counseling into the medical care."

Coles emphasized that families should not feel ashamed or stigmatized if they suspect that their child has a mental illness

Tommy John, meanwhile, encouraged families to be informed and be proactive. "If you can get as much information as you can about what to look for and what to do, then you can get your child (proper care)," John said.

Detecting mental illness in children and youth and providing them with prompt medical care can help those kids survive one day at a time. Or as Gavroche and the cast of "Les Miserables" sing so well, "One more dawn. One more day. One day more."

Bill Stanczykiewicz is President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at iyi@iyi.org and @_billstan

Last Updated on Thursday, August 14, 2014 9:27 AM
 
Troubling questions about county government PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Mueller   
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 4:22 PM

In recent years I have had some troubling questions about Dearborn County government.

Questions like:
*What do you do when you can’t get information from your local government?
*What do you do when you find out that only certain people were invited to bid on a government project?
*What happens if costly government projects are broken up into smaller pieces so that the public does not get to vote on it?
*Is the judicial branch in charge of the government?
*Can County Council stop Commissioners from spending on a project?
*When are rules governing majority vote properly changed?
*What happens when judges or prosecutors make mistakes?
*What if you ask a question at a public meeting about a process or expenditure and get no answer?
*Should all public meetings be recorded?
*Does an attorney for county boards receive any special training on laws specific to government process?

After covering county meetings for almost 20 years, I know that there are three guiding principles of good government. When things start running amok I can usually trace the problem back to one or more of these being violated.

The first is the Open Door Law or the Sunshine Law. The second is Conflict of Interest. The third is the System of Checks and Balances between the branches of government.

This year I saw evidence of the Dearborn County Redevelopment Commission (DCRC) violating all three principles.

When some government officials and the local paper attempted to contain and correct the DCRC, others tried to cover up and obstruct. The board circled the wagons and protected the violators, rather than opening the door and protecting the citizens of the county. The county commissioners via their attorney proposed a three page form to be filled out in order to access public records.

After the Public Access Counselor ruled against the DCRC, the DCRC attorney suggested that they have everyone who attends their meetings sign in. Was this to protect the board from complaints? One of the DCRC answers to the newspaper’s complaint was that it was over the 30 day time limit to complain about the violations. So if they can prove you were at the meeting and did not complain in time, then they are off the hook? Lawyers are great at defensive strategy like that. But it does not change the fact that they violated. Getting the board off on a technicality does not protect the citizens of the county.

The newspaper article regarding the complaint filed by their assistant editor with the Public Access Counselor shows not one or two violations but a clear and persistent pattern of them.

After someone has held a job for a year or two they should know the rules of government, particularly when they are hired as the county administrator. And the same is true for the lawyers serving as advisors to county boards.

There should be a refresher course for boards and their attorneys on the Open Door Law. In the meantime there are officials, such as the county auditor, well-versed in these regulations for them to have as a resource.

The final straw while wading through this Open Door obstacle course came at the DCRC’s regular meeting in July when I asked (twice) when exactly did this board decide on the retroactive pay  for Terri Randall? I received no answer other than a “belief” from the former Chairman of the Board that he’s sure they must have done it in one of the meetings they did not have minutes for- just after they started meeting at the county administration building over a year ago. This belief was not supported by any other member at that July meeting or by any other county commissioner or council minutes or emails.

This brings us to two other issues with my guiding principles. The checks and balances don’t work because the commissioners are sharing their administrator with the DCRC board. Her salary is being paid by both commissioners and DCRC, thus giving the appearance of a conflict of interest. Which board is she serving? Who checks on whom?

I have been told over the years by officials that it is hard to see your own conflicts of interest, because when you are in power, you think you can handle issues and be fair. If any board needs to be watched closely, it is the DCRC. They are in charge of bringing economic development to the county. They spend a large amount of our money including grants to attract business- $4.7 million in incentives for the latest business. They cut the tax revenue to our schools by rerouting it through the TIF (tax incremental financing) districts for these businesses. Good schools are key to getting and keeping jobs. Who will be making up for the shifting tax revenue?

DCRC has more closed door executive sessions than any board in the county. They should be watching out for the good of the citizens. Instead they seem to be more worried about getting around whoever is watching them.

Christine Brauer Mueller of Lawrenceburg Township is a writer for the Dearborn County Public Forum www.dearborncounty.blogspot.com and has attended county meetings since 1995.

 
Redefining marriage not about equality, but redefining sin PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Rahe   
Monday, July 21, 2014 4:20 PM

Editor,
Brian Howey’s opinion about redefining marriage should not go unchallenged. It is not an issue of equality, but a campaign (some say a devil inspired campaign) to redefme marriage.

I believe it is preposterous to use the 14th Amendment, Section 1 to defend the redefining of marriage. Do you really believe that the people who supported and voted for that amendment had any idea that it would be twisted to redefine God’s definition of marriage?

Which holy book of any major religion that believes in a creator teaches that homosexual behavior is not a sin. It’s always referred to as bad behavior or an abomination.

Who believes that murder, theft, rape, and other bad behaviors deserve the status that good behavior has under the law? While it is true that some theologians believe their god gave them the right to rewrite the Bible or other holy book to accommodate their personal feelings, most religious people oppose that kind of arrogance.

The Hand of Providence that most of our founding fathers referred to was the Hand of the Christian God.

The values and virtues taught to us by the God of the Bible are the base degrees by which this country became great in the eyes of world. Many are now scorning those base degrees. The loss of greatness that America is now experiencing parallels the decline in morality so prevalent today. That includes the attitude toward homosexual behavior.

Yes, respect for Christianity and its teachings is declining just as respect for our country is declining. We never were and never should be a theocracy, but the relationship between our government and the Christian religion as our standard of values is imperative for our survival as a healthy nation.

Many major newspapers, electronic news agencies, and Hollywood celebrities have become mouthpieces to support the redefining of marriage. The enemy of God has also won over many federal judges. Who came up with the idea that the founding documents of this nation inform us that among the unalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator is the right to defy the teachings of our Creator?

Recently in Utah two federal judges ruled that the state’s ban on polygamy was unconstitutional. In North Dakota a man who is a partner in a “same sex marriage” in a state where that is legal has been granted a license to marry a female in a traditional marriage in North Dakota where “same sex marriages” are illegal. Is this man a bigamist or a polygamist and will a federal judge rule that a ban on this arrangement is unconstitutional?

In Massachusetts three females are in one relationship they call a “marriage.” In Georgia five people (three males and two females) are in such a relationship.

Representing a small percentage of the population, the homosexual lobby and its many influential mouthpieces have been trying to convince us that redefining marriage will have no negative effects on the social structure of our nation.

The examples cited above make it perfectly clear that it is dramatically destructive to society. Most people know that the traditional family is the essential foundation for any healthy society.

The great mouthpieces are trying to convince everyone that the only talented people in the workforce are homosexuals and their demands must be met.

The homosexual lobby is following a familiar pattern. First they plead for tolerance; then they insist on equality; and finally they want dominance. They are forcing the resignations of organizational leaders who in any way support God’s definition of marriage.

They wage campaigns to stigmatize and try to damage the reputations of influential people who dare to state an opposing view. The great mouthpieces demand that Biblical points of view be stricken from any public forum.

Is it you, me, or God? Who defines morality? Who defines marriage?

God’s Word is trying to warn us. In Lev. 18:22,24; 20:13; I Cor. 6:9-20; and 1 Tim. 1 : 10 we are warned that homosexual behavior is an abomination. In Romans 1 we learn in verse 22 “While claiming to be wise, they became fools.” In verse 25 we read “These people have exchanged God’s truth for a lie.” Verses 26, 27, and 28 reveal to us “For this reason God allowed their shameful passions to control them. Their women have exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. Likewise their men have given up natural sexual relations with women and bum with lusts for each other. And because they thought it was worthless to acknowledge God, God allowed their indecent minds to control them. So they do these indecent things.”
“The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” (Psalm 12: 8)

Christians know that it is right to love the sinner, but that does not mean condoning the sin. Condoning sin is also a sin. America needs to be reawakened to the truth before God decides that our hardened hearts will condemn us because we adamantly refuse to acknowledge Him and the truth of His Holy Word.

John A. Rahe
Aurora, Ind

 
Marketing is vital to growing new business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Eric Kranz   
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 4:23 PM

One of the most challenging questions for entrepreneurs to answer is “how much and where should I spend on marketing?”
As businesses get started they tend to favor focusing their time and capital into improving the physical space the business will occupy, getting the latest and greatest technology to be ahead of the

competition, hiring more people than is probably necessary and over stocking on inventory.
Often times I will look at how a business owner’s plans to use their start-up capital, see nothing (or a tiny fraction) for marketing, and ask how they plan to bring people in to their establishment.

“Word of mouth! Facebook! Word of mouth!”

Those are the stock answers. While they can be incredibly important for many businesses, it’s rarely enough especially as you first start out.

The answers to the questions of how much to spend and where will be different for every company, every industry and every situation but in general you want to spend as much as you can early, and back it down over time into a more targeted approach.

The simpler answer is “how much.” There is no magic formula for determining how much you should be spending on advertising (though you can look at industry analysis to see what your competitors are spending, generally displayed as a percentage of annual revenue) but if you are running a young  business, reinvesting your profits into building awareness is a fantastic use of capital.

Base your marketing spending on what you can afford, but make sure you are budgeting some funds annually to grow your customer base.

Ultimately however, the key to effectively growing your business is not just in how much you are spending, but how efficiently.  Social media and word of mouth are alluring answers not only because they are free, but also because they can be incredibly effective and if done right, can be the most efficient marketing you’ll ever do.

However, it’s rarely the be all and end all, especially when you are trying to grow. In a few weeks I will dedicate a column to social media basics and another to effectively using word of mouth advertising but for now, let’s look at the traditional marketing.

No matter how you choose to market your business there are two things you should always remember: make it actionable and make it track-able.  

By actionable I mean always include a call to action for your potential customers. “Call today for more info” “click here to contact us” “register now for 20% off” etc. Passive advertising meant to build brand awareness and brand loyalty is great when you are established but is less effective when growing from nothing.

In everything you do be it on the radio, in the newspaper, on a billboard or on the internet always include a call to action if you are trying to grow. Adding some sense of urgency by giving discounts, setting deadlines or making exclusive offers is a great way to increase the effectiveness of those calls to action.

Another way to make them more impactful is to make sure that what you are asking the customer to do is beneficial to them. If your call to action is “like us on Facebook” don’t expect great results.

While you should be soliciting those social media connections, it shouldn’t be the only actionable part of your messaging.

The second key is to make all of your marketing efforts track-able…and make sure you actually track the results!

As a growing business, it is very likely that your marketing budget is not unlimited.

Therefore efficiency is important. You need to have a very good sense of what is working and what isn’t working.

Don’t be afraid to kill what isn’t working. Remember, efficiency is key! As you get started, try a number of different avenues for reaching your audience.

Try the radio, try local papers, try regional papers, try web advertising, etc. and as you do make sure that you can track where new business is coming from so you know if any of them are successful.

If you are running an ad campaign in a number of different media outlets, make sure you have a way to tell if you are getting any business as a result.

The simplest way to do this is to ask! “Hey, how did you hear about us” is a great way to engage with your customers and solves the tracking problem for you…as long as you keep records of the responses!

You can also try using coupon codes or have a specific offer running on each form of media, then track which offer is getting the most interest.

After a few months (or weeks, depending on industry) analyze the results of the tracking. If the billboard generated no business, kill it. If the web advertising resulted in a spike, increase it. The only way to ensure you are marketing your business efficiently is to make sure you are tracking results.

Take a look at all of your promotions. Are they actionable? Are they track-able? If not, find a way to tweak them so they are.

It’s a simple way to make sure you are spending your limited marketing budget as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Eric Kranz is the Executive Director of the Dearborn County Chamber of Commerce. He previously worked as a small business consultant assisting business owners throughout Southeast Indiana. He holds a BS in business administration from Marquette University and an MBA from Boston University. Eric has lived in Dearborn County since 2009.

 
Open door violations need to be addressed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Denise Freitag Burdette   
Monday, July 14, 2014 4:11 PM

Also Read: Access counselor: county violated Open Door law

In the roughly 22 years I have been writing for newspapers, I had never filed a complaint regarding public records access or Open Door violations.

That changed in early May.

It was a decision I thought a lot about. Usually, when I see a violation, all I need to do is let the person or board know. The response is usually a thank you, and the problem is corrected.

For a year I waited for the same self correction from the Dearborn County Redevelopment Commission.

But the situation only seemed to get worse.

In June my suspicions were confirmed when the Indiana Public Access Counselor agreed the redevelopment commission violated the Open Door law, more than once.

Most of the time when a public records access or Open Door law violation occurs, it is not with ill intent. Mistakes happen. I try to be understanding and flexible whenever possible.

If I feel a person or board is taking the situation seriously, then I expect the issue will be quickly resolved.

The public deserves to know about the decisions being made in their county government. Elected officials and appointed board representatives should never forget who they are there to represent.

Yet, when I pointed out a late meeting notice from the redevelopment commission earlier this year, the response was not what I expected. Instead of being told the meeting time would be moved to comply with state law, I essentially was told it was a “good faith” mistake. As far as I could tell, the meeting was to carry on as scheduled.

That was frustrating to me. The meeting notice was only a few minutes late, but it was at least the third time I had received a meeting notice late from the redevelopment commission in less than a year. When the notices were not late, they were barely meeting the deadline. I remember one notice I received exactly 48 hours before the start time of the meeting.

According to Indiana Code, news media requesting notice of meetings must be notified 48 hours before the meeting, not including weekend and holidays. Meeting notices also must be posted outside the principal office of the public agency at least 48 hours before the start of a meeting.

Not only do I think the redevelopment commission’s actions are not conducive to allowing the public to attend meetings, it could put an action the redevelopment commission takes in jeopardy. If someone does not like an action taken in a meeting deemed illegal, someone could try to get the action reversed. If the decision was a million dollar decision, that is going to sting in the taxpayer pocketbooks.

Good faith is fine, if it is the first time something has happened. If it keeps on happening, then it just becomes lame excuse. But I still refrained from filing a formal complaint.

Bad timing
Another incident that concerned me was when county redevelopment commission meeting times were changed from about 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.

During the discussion, a citizen expressed concern about the early start times, and the availability of the public and media to attend.

I have not been to a redevelopment commission meeting personally since the change has been made. Why? At 8 a.m. in the morning I am dropping kids off at school. One of them is not allowed in the building before a certain time, so an early drop off is out of the question. My guess is a lot of parents would face this dilemma during the school year, making attendance at a meeting very difficult, or nearly impossible.

Also, a meeting can start late and there is no guarantee how long it will last. A person on their way to work could end up being an undetermined amount of time late. If the meetings were at least still in afternoon, they could leave early and the length of the meeting would not be such a big deal.

But when this topic was brought up, I was basically told by one member, that it was the media’s problem if 8 a.m. is not a good time. Well, that really was not the point.

The point was it made access more difficult in general- for the public directly and for the media who try to help relay to the public what is going on when they can not attend.

By law, public meetings do not have to be held at a certain time. In this incidence it is the spirit of the law that I feel was violated.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Apparently not.

A similar issue is addressed in an informal complaint response posted on the Indiana Access Counselor website.

The Indiana Public Access Counselor is the person who responded to my complaints about the county redevelopment commission that I will go into more detail in a moment. A free resource to all Hoosiers, the Public Access Counselor provides advice and assistance concerning Indiana’s public access laws to members of the public and government officials and their employees.

Dated May 9, 2014, Public Access Counselor Luke H. Britt responds to an informal inquiry from Mr. Mark Cherry, regarding the Morgan County Redevelopment Commission.

Basically, Mr. Cherry expressed concern that a redevelopment commission meeting was held at 8 a.m., before the regular business hours of the county, when the public may not be able to attend.

Dearborn County regular business hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Do you see a similarity?
In his response, Britt notes:

“I do have some potential concern about the timing of the meeting. Although the ODL (Open Door law) gives public agencies the discretion to set their meetings at any time, the purpose of the ODL is to give the public the opportunity to observe and record. That being said, it may be more practical for the members of a public agency to set the meeting during regular business hours.”

When the concern about the new meeting time seemed to be brushed aside, that is when I started realizing it might take someone from out of the area to get through to the board. When I brought up an issue, or someone else brought up a possible public access or Open Door issue, it seemed to fall over and over again on deaf ears.

The $10,000 question
Earlier this year I was disappointed again when discussion surfaced about $10,000 the redevelopment commission had in their December expenditures for county administrator Terri Randall. The money was to compensate her for the extra time she had spent helping the redevelopment commission since April 2013 when former county chamber president Mike Rozow, who handled commission business previously, left the position.

The expenditure was not paid because it was stopped by county auditor Gayle Pennington, who told the commission the payment had to be handled a different way according to law.

I truly believe the only reason this $10,000 was ever discussed in a public meeting is because Pennington stopped it from going though as an expenditure. I do not remember the $10,000 ever being discussed in a public meeting prior to December. The issue of whether the $10,000 was ever discussed by the redevelopment commission in a public meeting was one of the subjects I asked an opinion on from the public access counselor.

I made a public records request to the county, asking for the official county redevelopment commission public meeting minutes from the time Randall took over duties after Rozow left, through the commission’s December meeting. I did not see a discussion on the $10,000 anywhere. I looked through all the reasons given by the commission for executive sessions for the same time period.

Executive sessions are meetings that, by law, may be closed to the public, if it falls in a certain category allowed by law. A board is required to state exactly which one of those reasons an executive session is being held. None of the reasons given fit a discussion regarding the $10,000.

In an addendum to his original opinion, Britt agreed the circumstances surrounding the $10,000 was a violation of the state Open Door law.

County council eventually approved a salary boost for Randall in March, in a vote that broke with a 12-year precedent. Usually council required at least five votes to pass a salary change. But then a motion “failed” with only four votes.

The decision was made in that moment to go by the letter of state law- changed 12 years ago- so the motion for the salary boost could pass with a simple majority of four votes.

After some research it was discovered that council faced a similar situation in 2005, according to official county council meeting minutes.

During the county council’s March 22, 2005, meeting, members voted on whether to award the recently replaced county coordinator a severance package. The vote count? Four ayes. The minutes then state it was not certain if four or five votes were needed for the motion to provide the severance to pass.

Fast forward to the  May 24, 2005, county council meeting minutes, when an answer to the question was provided.

“(Then council president) Charlie Fehrman stated that after reviewing with the county attorney employee severance, it was clarified that the issue requires five votes since it is attached to salary and since there were only 4 votes that motion died.”

Two very similar votes, two different outcomes.

I asked if this type of situation could open the county up to liability. I never received an answer.

In addition to bringing up the issue with the public access counselor, I also spoke with someone at the state board of accounts. Basically, since the county fixed the problem retroactively, including the commissioners adding redevelopment to the county administrator’s duties months after the work started taking place, the issue has been resolved on paper.

But, again, I still have a real problem with the apparent secrecy in which this issue initially developed.

If Pennington had not stopped the expenditure, however, there probably would have been other violations.

I hope everyone gave Pennington a big thank you for spotting the problem, and putting a stop to it before it went any further down the wrong path. She deserves it.

Keep to the topic
My other complaints filed with the public access counselor centered on executive sessions.

According to official meeting minutes from the redevelopment commission, I contended topics were discussed, not covered by the reason given for holding the meeting.

Basically the reason given for holding a closed door executive session Monday, Sept. 9, was to discuss strategy with the respect to purchasing real property. Yet, topics of discussion, according to redevelopment commission minutes, included Randall asking permission to send an incentive offer to ‘Project C’ and asking the former Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative to assist with funding for extending waterlines out to Projects Millings and also improvements to the Hirlinger entrance.

These did not seem to be about the purchase of real property. Only the  topic given for an executive session may be discussed during a particular executive session.

Then during an executive session held Thursday, Nov. 21, the reason given for the meeting was again to discuss strategy with the respect to purchasing real property. But meeting minutes show Randall was given permission to submit three grant requests to the City of Lawrenceburg’s Regional Economic Development Program.

From my research it appears the grant requests were for a county wide visioning study, a county wide economic redevelopment coordinator, and money for the county redevelopment commission. None of these reasons falls under “strategy with respect to purchasing real property.”

I also contended the redevelopment commission had not kept executive session memoranda as required by law. The memoranda, in addition to basic items such as the time and date of the meeting, is supposed to include a certification that the governing body did not discuss anything in executive session other than the subject matter specified in the public notice.

That last part is what is important to me. I want the commission or its representative to state, on the record, that nothing was discussed in executive session that was not covered in the public notices.

In his response Britt stated, “The Commission does not dispute the executive session discussion topics fell outside the noticed subject matter. Strategy with respect to purchasing real property does not include funding to extend waterlines, property improvement, or grant money pass-through. These matters should either be discussed in public or placed on an executive session notice, if applicable. The Commission should be particularly mindful of the added scrutiny which comes with closed door meetings and make every effort to be as transparent as the law requires, if not more so.”

Later on he continues, “The Commission concedes the memoranda are absent, but argues it was an inadvertent mistake. While I appreciate the acknowledgment and candor in its concession, a public agency cannot be ignorant of the laws protecting public access. In fact, access is one of the essential responsibilities of government as they are the stewards of the citizenry’s resources. I trust that pursuant to these recommendations, the Commission will comply with the Open Door Law in the future. While good faith efforts may be acceptable in the private sector, public servants are held to a higher standard when it comes to transparency and access.”

And that paragraph strikes at the very heart of why I filed the complaint. I could not have worded it any better.

Britt did disagree with me on one point. When I filed the complaint I was not sure if I should list the missing memoranda as an Open Door law or a public records act violation, so I indicated both. Britt stated that I was not denied access to the missing memoranda, because, well, they do not exist. Therefore, the county could not deny giving me a record that did not exist. Instead he classified it as an Open Door violation.

As redevelopment becomes more and more of a hot topic in the county, with millions of dollars being spent and/or offered in incentives to lure businesses and jobs, sometimes at the expense of schools, it has become increasingly more vital that the action of these boards be scrutinized. The public needs to be aware of the decisions being made.
In the opening letter attached to the 2014 State of the County Report released through the county commissioners, it states, “Whether it’s forging new partnerships, promoting economic development, or managing the day-to-day operations of the county, you can rest assured the trust you have placed in us is not taken lightly. We have much work ahead of us and remind you that our door is always open to hear your ideas and feedback as this truly is your government.”

I hope going forward, that statement proves to be true.

For more go to www.thedcregister.com, click on opinion in the menu bar above the photo slideshow. There you will find links that includes the letters I wrote to the public access counselor, the county’s response, the public access counselor’s advisory opinion, his addendum to the opinion regarding the $10,000, a copy of the State of the County report and a proposed public records access form recently suggested by the county attorney.


Denise Freitag Burdette is assistant editor of The Journal-Press and The Dearborn County Register.



Other Related Links:

Copies of the complaint, response, advisory opinion

Give 2 cents’ worth on county record request form

State of the County Report

Co. council skirts vote precedent


What you need to know

The following are a sample of questions and answers found on the   Indiana  Access Counselor website and/or public access handbook.

PUBLIC RECORD ACCESS

What records are available to the public, and what records are confidential?
Any record that is created, received, retained, maintained or filed by or with a public agency is a “public record.” This includes records created for or on behalf of a public agency by an outside contractor. All public records must be disclosed unless exempted from disclosure by law. The Public Access Counselor does not maintain a list of all records that are confidential, since records are declared confidential in different areas of state and federal law as well as administrative rules of public agencies and rules of the Indiana Supreme Court.

How much can I be charged for a copy of a record?

For a record from state agencies, the current fee allowed is .10 cents per page for 8 ½ by 11 or 8 1/2 by 14 inch sheets of paper. Other agencies may charge only the actual cost of copying, which includes only the cost of the paper and the per-page cost for use of the equipment to reproduce the record. The agency cannot charge anything to allow you to inspect the record. Also, the agency cannot charge a fee to search for the record or any fee to examine or review a record to determine whether the record is disclosable. The fee must be uniform throughout the agency and uniform to all purchasers.

Do I have to tell the government why I want the record?
You are not required to state the purpose for the record or the reason you want the record, but there are exceptions. Some records are available only if you can show certain reasons why you qualify for the record such as a limited criminal history of a person. In that case, the public agency would not be in violation of the law if it asked you to establish why you qualify for the record. Very few records fall within this exception.

How long does the agency have to give me the records I  requested?
There is no specific timeframe when the records have to be produced. However, the agency should produce the records in a reasonable time. What is reasonable may depend on factors such as how many records you requested, whether the records are old and stored off-site, and whether the records must be redacted to take out confidential information.
The public agency must respond to your request within 24 hours if you telephoned the agency or went to the agency to request the record. If you mailed, email, or faxed the request, the agency must respond within seven calendar days. The response could be an acknowledgment that the agency has received your request and how and when the agency intends to comply. If the agency knows some of the records you requested are exempt, the agency should tell you why the agency will deny the record.

OPEN DOOR LAW

What government meetings are open to the public?

Generally, all meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times so members of the public may observe and record them. Although this general rule may appear to be straightforward and easy to apply, it contains several words and phrases which are given a specific meaning by the ODL. Additionally, several types of meetings are not required to be open to the public.

What is a meeting?
“Meeting” means a gathering of a majority of the governing body of a public agency for the purpose of taking official action upon business. I.C.§ 5-14-1.5-2(c).

What is significant about executive sessions?
Executive sessions are significant because the ODL permits governing bodies to meet privately under certain circumstances. “Executive session” is defined in I.C. § 5-14-1.5- 2(f) and means a meeting from which the public is excluded, except that the governing body may admit those persons n ecessary to carry out its purpose. The ODL sets out the specific matters about which a public agency can hold an executive session. These include instances like government strategy discussions with respect to collective bargaining and litigation, interviews of prospective employees, job performance evaluations, and the purchase or lease of property by the public agency.

May a meeting be set at any time?
The ODL does not define any particular time for a meeting as inappropriate. However, a public agency may not delay the start of a meeting to the extent the delay frustrates the public’s right to attend and observe the agency’s proceedings.

What kind of notice is required?
*Forty-eight business hours in advance
*Date, time and place where Governing Body will meet
*Not required to be published in newspaper unless that is required under some other statute
*Annual notices are permitted
*Emergency meetings are exception to 48 hour notice requirement
*Must post at principal place of business or meeting location
*2012 legislation concerning local public agencies allows the adoption of policies to provide additional notice (website, e-mail, annual notices for non-media).

When can a governing body take final action on an item which is the subject of an executive session?
Final action (i.e. a vote) must be taken at a meeting open to the public.


For more information
Indiana Public Access Counselor
www.in.gov/pac/
1-317-234-0906
1-800-228-6013


Last Updated on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 9:42 AM