Should the August 28th meeting have been an open meeting?

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?

Tenet No. 7 of A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders

7.   “Lands, rivers, and oceans are healthy when they sustain the full range of ecological processes. Healthy wild land filters its own water and build its own soil, as in ancient forest or unplowed prairies. Agricultural land is healthy when it is gaining rather than losing fertility, and when it leaves room for other species in woodlots and hedgerows. Whether wild or cultivated, healthy lands and seas are diverse, resilient, and beautiful.”

White River Watchers to conduct 15th annual river clean-up on September 14th

This year’s annual fall clean-up will start at Canoe County in Daleville and terminate at Mounds State Park. This is also the section of river that would be flooded by the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir. A group of volunteers from Delaware County are cleaning their section of the river on the same day.

Registration begins at 8:30 at Canoe Country in Daleville. We will float to Mounds State Park, a trip that normally takes about 2 hours but will take longer when debris is being removed and the water level is low. There will be no cost to participants. Volunteers under 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. Participants are urged NOT to wear flip-flops because they provide no protection from broken glass and sharp rocks. All participants will receive a hot lunch and a souvenir t-shirt after being transported back to Canoe Country. We need additional volunteers to help offload debris at the canoe launch at Mounds. All community residents are invited to participate and to celebrate our beautiful river.

Pertinent essay by Dr. Richard Louv—Toward a Nature-Rich Urban Future: Five Ways (Your City) Could Lead the Way

I also recommend Dr. Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He visited Indianapolis in 2007 (as I recall) to present his book’s findings to a capacity audience at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Neal Peirce, urbanologist and editor of the series, was commissioned to study the urban process in Indianapolis. In 1996, his study team produced The Peirce Report in which he notably recommended that the city “democratize development decisions” and “end the monopoly that planners and developers have in deciding the physical appearance of our communities”. Obviously, the development-decisions monopoly issue is not a problem unique to Indianapolis.

“Always a River” supplied by Goodwill

Life can be rich in irony, as I was reminded yesterday. I was running a little early for our Heart of the River Coalition meeting, so I stopped in the new Goodwill store on Scatterfield Road to peruse the book section for a few minutes. My eye quickly was attracted by a blue cover which carried the title Always a River. Edited by Robert Reid, it’s a collection of essays about the history of Ohio River and its valley. How ironic!. If the reservoir plan is pushed through, there would be a lake and not a river where the river is now (just a couple miles to the north).

The lead essay in the collection was penned by Scott Sanders and is titled The Force of Moving Water. He writes about the Mound Builders culture and later tribal habitation.  Here’s an especially  pertinent excerpt:

“On a steamboat trip down the Ohio in 1841, Charles Dickens met a Choctaw chief who presented him with a calling card and then conversed with him, in English, about the poetry of Sir Walter Scott. Describing the incident in American Notes (1842), Dickens clearly intended for his readers to lift their eyebrows at the spectacle of a savage becoming civilized. 6 By 1841, however, the savages” had already maintained a civilization in the Ohio valley for several thousand years, far longer than descendants of Europeans and Africans have managed to survive her. If, say in the year 5000, our descendants are still living beside the Ohio in peace and prosperity, without having exhausted the soil or poisoned the river, then there will be cause for boasting. For now, we are still sojourners in the land, our wisdom untested, the durability of our ways unproved.”