Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Formal Complaint to the Public Access Counselor

Today I contacted the Indiana Public Access Counselor and filed a formal complaint against the city for its possible violation of the Indiana Open Door Law. I've had a couple of people ask me why I want to go through with this when everyone involved seems to admit that it was a simple oversight. Let me start by saying that I'm not suggesting anyone should resign or anything like that; I simply don't want this type of violation to go unchallenged. If nothing else it forces local government to think about the public and how they should be accommodated.

Most of the people I talk to see this as the #1 issue in the upcoming election - they simply don't believe (right or wrong) that local officials take their concerns seriously. Well this is one way to change things. The more citizens that become engaged in local politics the more seriously their issues and opinions will be taken. It might not seem so now, but the squeaky wheel does get the oil - or the boot I suppose.

I know there are others that see my complaint as a way to possibly void the bond financing vote that took place last night. I want to be clear - that was not my intention. But if other citizens want to use last night's lockout to further their own agenda - well that is their right I suppose. The text of my letter to the PAC is shown below:
Heather Willis Neal - Indiana Public Access Counselor,

On July 24th, 2007, the Fort Wayne City Council held their weekly public council meeting. There had been construction taking place in the usual council chambers so they moved to a much smaller meeting space. During previous meetings in this smaller room, the council has accommodated the overflow crowd by allowing them to watch the proceedings on television in an adjacent room.

Unfortunately, during the July 24th meeting, the adjacent room was being used for another meeting. Therefore, about 80-100 citizens were locked out - literally - of the city council meeting. Once the seats were filled, the doors were shut and there was no audio or video provided. The doors were also manned by the sergeant at arms and local police, and no one was allowed to go in without somebody coming out first. I personally asked the sergeant at arms who was responsible for the decision and the room scheduling and he informed me that it was the Fort Wayne City Clerk Sandy Kennedy.

I believe the city’s action clearly violated IC 5-14-1.5-3 (emphasis mine):
"Sec. 3. (a) Except as provided in section 6.1 of this chapter, all meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to observe and record them."

The meeting was not open for all of the public to observe and record as the doors were shut and citizens were not freely allowed to enter. While the meetings are broadcast on public access television there is no statute requiring citizens to own a television in order to observe and record these meetings.

This is my notice of formal complaint and I look forward to your response.

Thank You

6 comments:

Kevin said...

You got coverage in today's JG.

I have given this some thought- even if the council had opened the Omni room- if the smoking supporters had shown up with the 2000-3000 people they said they would have, there would not have been enough room.

Folks still would have been locked out.

To be honest, I do not know how I feel about this situation. I am sad that folks who had an interest were "locked out". But I am also wondering how you can manage a meeting when you could have anywhere from 10-3000 folks show up.

Andrew Kaduk said...

C'mon, Kevin...that's an easy one. You just use the Grand Wayne center for every meeting. They have ballrooms with removable walls, so the more people that show up, the more walls you wheel away.

I'm sure their Tuesday ballroom bookings are sparse at BEST...

And frankly, I think it would be sweet if the City Council was to lead by example...They want people to use the GWC more often.

Kevin said...

Andrew-

Moving to the Grand Wayne center would leave out the live broadcast of City Council meetings.

Many home-bound citizens use that as their "access" to these meetings.

If the meeting could have been held in the normal council chambers, the crowd could have been accomodated.

But if 2000-3000 folks showed up it would have been a problem there as well.

What if 4000+ were to show up? The Grand Wayne's maximum seating is for 4000. And how may chairs do you put out?

My larger point is that what happened was unfortunate- but it was NOT a conspiracy.

And that there really is no easy solution.

Jeff Pruitt said...

Kevin,

I understand your point in regards to thousands of unexpected participants. That would've been a difficult situation and I probably would not have filed a complaint under those circumstances.

However, they had to know that the number of people would be larger than the room could accommodate. What we saw Tuesday was not an unexpected surge in citizen participation - the numbers were just as high two weeks ago. The numbers are going to likely continue to be higher than the room can accommodate. That is the part that made me upset. In this instance the problem was not unavoidable...

Andrew Kaduk said...

Kevin,

I certainly hope you gathered that my suggestion was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I certainly would think that the video feed could originate from just about anywhere in the city with a functional 120v power outlet...

I understand that this wasn't a conspiracy, but long gone are the days of a government operating independently of citizen oversight, so provisions must be made for this. The council works for the people, not the other way around.

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