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Open or closed?

By PA

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-02-04


A group of concerned citizens has filed a complaint with the state charging that Republicans on the Fort Wayne City Council broke the law in regard to Indiana’s open-door law.

The group, which calls itself Fort Wayne Public 1, charges that a January 8, 2008 caucus of members of council’s five-person Republican majority was illegal. Council President Tom Didier (R-3) has admitted that the meeting did take place and that the participants did discuss council appointments to several boards and commissions, as well as who would serve as council president. However, Didier maintains that the caucus was perfectly legal.

Fort Wayne Public 1 argues otherwise charging that the decisions made privately by the council majority and then ratified publically amount to a violation of the law. “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?” reads part of the complaint. “What good is the (open-door law) if it can be circumvented by this procedure of meeting privately and then making the decisions official publically as long as the official public meeting meets all the (open-door law) technical requirements but lacks meaningful public access and dialogue by Council members on the agenda items?”

The complaint is now in the hands of the state’s public access coordinator, who has up to 30 days to issue opinion. However, even if that opinion sides with Fort Wayne Public 1, it is a non-binding ruling. The group would then have to take the matter to court, and win, in order to force compliance.

Whether or not it is pertinent or persuasive in terms of the merits of the complaint, Fort Wayne Public 1 coordinator Daniel Jehl tries to put his group’s complaint in context. In the complaint, he describes the current public mood as it pertains to the recent doings of local government. “Transparency and open public access to meetings are what the public now demands and what the law calls for despite years of customary practice skirting the law on caucus meeting boundary-spanning,” the complaint notes.

However, customary practice is precisely the leg upon which Council President Didier’s position stands - he reminds anyone who will listen that this is the way things have always been done. If nothing else, Fort Wayne Public 1 is saying it’s time for a change.

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