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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Public Access Counselor Rules Lawrence County Council Did Not Violate Open Door Law

Lawrence County Zephyr


By:Bill Raines


LAWRENCE COUNTY - (December 28, 2021) - The public access counselor issued a advisory opinion in regard to the public access complaint by Bill Raines resident and editor of the Lawrence County Zephyr.


According to the opinion after review of the complaint and stated that there were no grounds for the complaint. The public access counselor finds that Lawrence County Council Scott Smith response sufficient and County Attorney Dave Smith response explanation to be sufficient.


The complaint was filed after on October 28, 2021, the Lawrence County Council went into regular session following the budget hearing that did not take place. Media outlets WBIW and Times Mail arrived at 6:30 p.m. and the regular session was already completed.


The Indiana Public Access Counselor also ruled the Lawrence County Commissioners did not violate Open Door Law in regard to Executive Sessions.


File photo of Lawrence County Council Meeting


Here is a copy of the letter from the Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt:


Re: Formal Complaint 21-FC-184 & 185


Dear Mr. Raines,


This letter is in response to your complaints against the Lawrence County Board

of Commissioners and the Lawrence County Council. As I sometimes do, I am

providing my advisory opinion in letter form as opposed to a published formal

opinion.

Upon receipt of your complaints, they were forwarded to the Commission and the Council respectively for responses, which are enclosed for your review.


I have reviewed the complaint and the supplemental documentation and have

not identified grounds for a complaint. First, you alleged that the County Board

of Commissioners failed to properly notice an executive session. Contrary to this allegation, the County provided a copy of the notice for the executive session that was held on October 26, 2021. Second, regarding your complaint against the Lawrence County Council, I find Attorney Smith’s explanation to be sufficient.


Overall, I do not consider the actions of either body to be in violation of the Open Door Law.


Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.


Best regards,


Luke H. Britt

Public Access Counselor


The public access counselor received a response from Lawrence County Attorney and Lawrence County Council President Scott Smith.


Dave Smith Lawrence County Attorney Response to complaint:


MCINTYRE & SMITH

ATTORNEYS AT LAW

MEREDITH L. MCINTYRE


Registered Family Law Mediator Certified Family Law Specialist, as certified by the Family Law Certification Board Licensed to Practice Law in State of Indiana


EAST SIDE SQUARE 1522 I STREET BEDFORD, INDIANA 47421 PHONE (812) 275-3306 FAX (812) 275-3308



DAVID A. SMITH Licensed to Practice Law in State of Indiana and State of Florida

November 17, 2021


Ms. Kaitlyn Holmecki Public Access Coordinator Indiana Government Center South 402 W. Washington Street, Room W470 Indianapolis, IN 46204-2745


· RE: Your Complaint: 21-FC-184


Dear Ms. Holmecki:


Please be advised that I presently serve as Lawrence County Attorney, and I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Lawrence County Commissioners to your letter dated November 12, 2021.


First, please allow me to report that the Lawrence County Commissioners did not meet on October 28, 2021, as set out in Mr. Raines' complaint. There was a regular meeting of the Lawrence County Commissioners held on October 26, 2021. For purposes of this response, I am assuming this is the date of the meeting Mr. Raines refers to in his complaint.


I enclose a copy of the notice publicly posted for the meeting held on October 26, 2021. This is the standard form of notice regularly posted for the Lawrence County Commissioners meetings by the Auditor.


I also enclose a copy of the minutes prepared for the meeting held by the Lawrence County Commissioners on October 26, 2021. Included in the minutes is a summary of the discussion held during the executive session. The topic was an employee job performance evaluation. I believe this is provided for in IC 5-14-1,5-6.1(b)(9).


Following the review held in the executive session, no actions were taken, and the matter was deferred for further consideration.


Ms, Kaitlyn Holmecki November 17, 2021


The Lawrence County Commissioners believe they have not acted in violation of the Open-Door Law.


If you have further questions, please advise.

Very truly yours,

MCINTYRE & SMITH


The complaint was filed following the second time the Lawrence County Council did not invite the public or media into a public meeting. The other occasion during 2020 when Lawrence County Health Nurse Mary Kinser had business during the COVID-19 pandemic to address with the Lawrence County Council.


Kinser along with the media and other public attendees was waiting outside in the lobby of the Lawrence County Courthouse who was in Executive Session with other office holders. The full council was meeting in Executive Session during a Salary Committee meeting.


When the council emerged 40 minutes later then, Lawrence Council President David Flinn apologized to those out in the lobby, but the business was already conducted for that evening. Flinn told Kinser, and those in attendance " There is nothing could be done," said Flinn.


Mrs. Kinser was visibly upset and had to wait for next month's meeting to conduct the business that was needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time Lawrence County David Smith was not appointed as attorney for the council.


" The importance of the public being able to attend meetings is allow the public to see the full discussion and decision making of the council and commissioners is imperative," said Raines following the ruling. " Although, it was not in my favor, hopefully local governing boards and local officials do a better job of being open and transparent in conducting the public business," said Raines








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