Posted on

Public access counselor rules meeting violated open-door law

The Harrison County Commissioners got an assertive lecture on open-meeting laws Monday night by Corydon attorney Marian Pearcy, who is the immediate past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government.
Pearcy’s lecture came after she filed a complaint last month against the commissioners with Indiana’s Public Access Counselor Karen Davis, alleging the commissioners violated Indiana’s open meeting laws after they held an emergency meeting that had been mistakenly called as an executive session.
Davis released her opinion Thursday, which will be posted on the PAC Web site at As of yesterday (Tuesday), the opinion had not been released on the Web site.
‘I find the Harrison County Commissioners violated the Open Door Law when they failed to post notice of the Nov. 3 meeting 48 hours in advance of the meeting,’ Davis said.
Pearcy’s complaint stated the Nov. 3 meeting was illegal because it had been incorrectly called an executive session by Harrison County Auditor Pat Wolfe and the commissioners took action during the meeting. During an executive session, which is not open to the public, a government board may not take any action.
Davis found that the meeting held on Nov. 3 was an open meeting and the commissioners did nothing to bar the public from attending that meeting.
‘Members of the public who happened by were admitted, but others may have stayed away,’ Davis said in her opinion.
Davis also stated that the circumstances of the meeting did not constitute an emergency meeting and therefore the commissioners should have posted a 48-hour notice for the press and public. Notice was posted the morning of the meeting, which was convened at 9:35 a.m.
Davis also said the violation of the open-door law does not void the actions taken but a court could reasonably declare the action taken void.
However, Monday night, Pearcy requested the commissioners void any action that was taken during the Nov. 3 meeting and redo that action during an open meeting.
‘Transparency is important in government,’ Pearcy told the commissioners.
She told the commissioners that the courts would find that the meeting was illegal in light of Davis’ findings.
‘I just want you to listen to me when I tell you something and not fight me,’ Pearcy said, noting she had been called a liar in a previous meeting where she brought the violation to the commissioners’ attention.
‘I’m fed up with being treated that way,’ Pearcy said.
Pearcy said she did not wish to file a lawsuit against the commissioners.
The commissioners defended their actions Monday night saying they did not attempt to bar the public from the meeting or try to hide anything.
‘The issue in my mind is that it wasn’t a big issue,’ Commissioner James Goldman said. ‘If it were a big issue, I think the opinion would have been different.’
County attorney Chris Byrd reminded Pearcy the commissioners made all the information given at the meeting available to the public afterwards.
‘They did not try and hide anything they did,’ Byrd said.
He also reminded Pearcy that Davis did not find the meeting illegal.
‘The spirit and the letter of the law was followed,’ he said.
According to Indiana law, Davis can only render her opinion when a complaint is filed with her office. The law does not allow her to take action against any party.
In other matters Monday night, the commissioners:
‘ Approved annual highway bids for 2007.
‘ Accepted a bid by CPI for $10,000 in the sale of two spans of a used bridge.
‘ Approved a zoning change, from A-R to I-1a (light industrial) for AwningTech, which is located off S.R. 62 west of Corydon.
‘ Approved regular claims in the amount of $8.5 million. Commissioner chair J.R. Eckart said the ‘extremely high pay period’ is due to a $4 million payment to the hospital and $2.5 million approved for property tax reduction.