Monday, January 28, 2008

Formal Compaint Filed Against Republican Councilmembers

A newly formed public advocacy group, Fort Wayne Public 1, will be filing a formal complaint with Indiana Public Access Counselor today in regards to the illegal caucuses held by the Republican members of the Fort Wayne City Council. (Full disclosure - I have been at both public meetings held by FW Public 1) The caucuses were held at councilman Didier's home before the 1st council meeting and decisions were made about who would become the council president, the committee chairs/co-chairs and who would be appointed to various boards and commissions.

You can read the full complaint but I found this part to really describe the crux of the issue:

Common sense begs this question: What good is a public meeting if this is permitted? A private caucus can be held and the decisions can be mailed out to the public and the media. What good is a public hearing or public comment period if the decisions are pre-determined and the public official member minds are already made? What good is the ODL if it can be circumvented by this procedure of meeting privately and then making the decisions official publicly as long as the official public meeting meets all the ODL technical requirements but lacks meaningful public access and dialogue by Council members on the agenda items?

The complaint also refers to a 2003 PAC ruling that can be considered advisory "precedent" for this complaint. In that case members of the Lebanon city council met before the official meeting and discussed public business. In that case the PAC ruled against the Lebanon city council:

In this case, the council was engaged in reviewing claims. This activity, at a minimum, involved the council receiving information on public business. There is no issue that a majority of the council was present in the small conference room to review claims in advance. In my opinion, this gathering of the majority of the council to review claims which the council would approve later in the evening constituted a meeting under the Open Door Law.

Let's review the facts of this case:
  1. The Republicans on council met at Didier's home

  2. The Republicans decided who the president, chairs/co-chairs and commission appointments would be before the official meeting - councilman Didier has admitted to this.

  3. The decisions were printed in the council agenda before the official meeting. The clerk would not know to print these items unless directed by someone on council as she was not a part of the Republican caucus

The PAC should clearly rule that this was an illegal caucus and reaffirm the 2003 Lebanon decision.

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