FOI Alert: Indiana Supreme Court Asked to Review Serial Meetings Abuse Case
By Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, Indiana Sunshine Chairwoman
The Indiana Supreme Court has been asked to overturn a ruling that permits public agencies and universities to avoid the Indiana Open Door Law by holding serial meetings.
Serial meetings allow public officials to meet privately in small groups that don’t constitute a quorum to discuss public business — outside of public view and without public input or scrutiny.
An Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled in June that the Indiana University board of trustees did not violate the Open Door Law when it used serial meetings to discuss firing then basketball coach Bob Knight. However, the panel also recognized that action itself ran contrary to the spirit of the law.
“The conduct of the IU trustees was in direct contravention to the public policy behind the Open Door Law,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote in the 3-0 opinion. “While a more open process in matters of governance such as this might be preferable, the legislative branch of our state government has spoken. The law does not prohibit this conduct.”
Dan Byron, an attorney with Bingham McHale in Indianapolis, suggests that the policy implications are important enough for the Supreme Court to review. “The Open Door Law requires a liberal interpretation in favor of openness,” Byron said. “It is my hope the court upon review will reverse this decision.”
What does this mean? If you know of local or state government bodies conducting serial meetings, those entities continue to be on potentially shaky legal ground as this case continues on an appeal track.
Sen. Bev Gard, R-Greenfield, will again sponsor a bill to stop these violations of the Open Door Law in the 2007 session. The Indiana Legislature has failed to pass her much- needed reform bill two years in a row. The Senate passed the measure without opposition, but the House has continued to refuse to give the matter even a cursory hearing (which would allow for public testimony from citizens).
Significant opposition to Gard’s bill has come from various associations including the Indiana School Boards Association, Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Association of Indiana Counties and other groups representing government entities.
When former IU President Myles Brand fired Knight, he met with trustees in a selective way — first meeting with four trustees while the other four waited in a separate room of his house. When he finished the discussion with the first four trustees, they left and he then met with the remaining four.
The format was deliberately designed to avoid a quorum of the nine trustees (one was not present that day) that would have put the board discussion under the scope of the Open Door Law.
To read the appellate opinion online, visit: