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Harrison Chamber subject to Open Door Law, agency finds

The Indiana Office of the Public Access Counselor recently determined that the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County is a public agency and ‘violated the Access to Public Records Act when it refused to disclose its records without citing any exemption.’
Other determinations upheld Sheriff Mike Deatrick’s refusal to accommodate an oral request for a limited criminal history, but there was no concrete finding regarding Debbie Heazlitt refusing to release Brent Lewis’ personnel record at his request.
The findings are advisory only and not legally binding.
Chamber administrators declined to comment on the counselor’s assertion that the non-profit organization is a public agency under the Access to Public Records Act and the Open Door Law.
The complaint by Warren Auxier of Hanover specifically noted the Chamber’s refusal to hold open meetings or release financial reports for 2003 and 2004.
The Chamber has, however, submitted annual reports to the State Board of Accounts on what Executive Director Jeff Allen described as ‘a voluntary basis’ in the interest of ‘thorough disclosure.’
Since the Chamber derives its funding from at least 50 percent of and more than $100,000 in public funds, Indiana Code determines that the audits are mandatory, not voluntary, Public Access Counselor Karen Davis found.
An entity that is subject to audit by the State Board of Accounts is a ‘public agency’ under Indiana Code, Davis wrote, adding, the Chamber as a public agency must cite an exemption when refusing to provide copies of its minutes or annual financial reports.
Licensed private investigator Charles M. Knoll of Greensburg fought the law and the law won when he contested Sheriff Deatrick’s refusal to disclose a limited criminal history following an oral request.
Counselor Davis found that the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. has a policy which requires such requests be made in writing. Indiana Code allows for the department to have such a policy.
However, even if Knoll had made his request in compliance with department policy, there are provisions in the Indiana Code limiting when a criminal history is released, Davis wrote.
Before Gerdon Youth Center’s then executive director, Debbie Heazlitt, asked the former program director, Brent Lewis, to either resign or have his employment terminated, Lewis had on several occasions requested a copy of his personnel file, according to a complaint filed with the Public Access Counselor.
After an alleged three requests for the file, Lewis filed a formal complaint.
If Gerdon Youth Center was subject to an audit by the State Board of Accounts at the time of Lewis’ request, it would have been a public agency and he would’ve been considered a public employee.
The Public Access Counselor did not have the necessary information to make such a determination. GYC was audited by the State Board of Accounts in 2001 and 2002. It received a waiver in 2003, meaning it was not considered a public agency that year. At the time of Lewis’ formal complaint, GYC’s annual report had not been received by the State Board of Accounts.
Another member of the GYC organization has since given Lewis a copy of his personnel file.

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