Enough serious questions have been raised by the conduct of the DeKalb County commissioners and their attorney that a formal complaint has been lodged with the Indiana Public Access counselor.
The county commissioners announced at their regular meeting April 10 that they and the county council would be going to Decatur to tour the new Adams County Jail on April 26.
During a break in the meeting, I told Commissioner Randy Deetz of my interest as a representative of Concerned Citizens of DeKalb County in going along on the tour. Overhearing our conversation, the commissioners' attorney, Jim McCanna, inserted himself into the discussion.
Attorney McCanna stated that since the commissioners and council members were not discussing county business and making any decisions that their meeting on the 26th was an executive session and not open to the public. He went on to say that my presence on the tour may be considered a “security risk” by Adams County law enforcement.
On April 13 I sent an inquiry to the Office of the Indiana Public Access counselor.
In my letter, I stated as follows:
“The DeKalb County commissioners and council members are planning a trip to Decatur, IN to tour and ask questions regarding the new Adams County Jail as part of their research in building a new jail. The trip is planned for April 26. Does the trip and tour need to be publicly published in the newspaper? Is this trip open to non-elected citizens of the county? I requested permission to attend the tour and was refused being told that it may prove to be a 'security risk.' The attorney for the commissioners stated that since no business would be transacted and no decisions made, that it would not be open to the public.”
On April 20 I received a response from the Office of the Public Access counselor, which stated as follows:
As per Mr. Luke H. Britt, the Indiana Public Access counselor, his response was: “There is no 'public business' before the board and council. It is an on-site inspection of a facility and no official action on any current public business is being considered. It would be considered an executive session, thereby being closed to the public.”
Upon receiving the answer from the PAC office, it was decided to dismiss the issue and wait on the report of the tour at the following couny council meeting on May.
That is until we read about the tour on the front page of The Star newspaper, with the above-the fold headline, “County leaders tour new Adams jail” on April 27.
It was clear from the well-written article that the report had himself accompanied the elected officials on the jail tour. A tour which had been declared an “executive session” by the commissioners' attorney, Jim McCanna and “closed to the public” by Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.
Did the commissioners and their attorney openly lie to the Concerned Citizens of DeKalb County knowing all along that the public would be allowed on the tour by permitting the attendance of the newspaper?
If, indeed, the tour was legally a meeting open to the public, were the rules for public announcement of the meeting set forth in the open meetings law rightfully followed by the commissioners?
By denying permission to Concerned Citizens of DeKalb County but allowing a newspaper reporter to accompany the tour, it is our opinion that the commissioners and their attorney have discriminated against CCDC and not fulfilled either the spirit or letter of the Open Meetings Act.
David L. Powers, Auburn