Does the August 28 closed door meeting among public officials and the CED constitute a violation of the Indiana Open Door Law in letter and/or spirit?
Here is the situation as currently understood. On August 28, several elected officials from the Anderson-Chesterfield area attended a meeting with the director of the private Corporation for Economic Development to further discuss, as a Mounds Lake Advisory Board, the planning for a dam and reservoir. Several days prior to the meeting, Chesterfield Clerk-Treasurer Deborah Dunham indicated to a resident that the meeting would be a public (open) meeting. However, only hours before the meeting started, she advised several folks that the meeting was instead determined to be an “executive session” and thus would be closed to the public. Before the meeting began, several interested public were barred from entering.
Indiana’s Open Door Law defines, among other things, what is deemed to constitute a public meeting and a governing body (a quorum being one element). The lines of demarcation are not always crystal clear however. Apparently, no quorum was present of any governing body (i.e. town council or county commission) which would have meant that the doors must be open. It was just a select few of the elected officials from several of the jurisdictions in the meeting, which was described as merely an “ad hoc” group (this is apparently a planning and predecessor group to a yet-to-be-constituted formal Mounds Lake Commission). Also, “no public business was conducted” according to the CED following the meeting.
In this instance, both the letter and the spirit of the state law should have been respected.
Regardless of whether, under the statutory language, the August 28th meeting constituted a public meeting, and regardless of whether it was conducted by a “governing body” or “public agency”, it’s apparent to us that public business was indeed discussed. We telephoned Clerk-Treasurer Dunham to inquire as to the subject matter of the meeting (the so-called “executive session”) and for other explanation, but we’ve not yet been able to connect with her.
The public had a legitimate equitable right to observe and takes notes because public business was almost certainly discussed– there would be many and significant personal, property, infrastructure, and fiscal impacts resulting from a reservoir. When will the proponents of the plan lift the veil so the public can see what is happening?