Login NowClose 
Sign In to chronicle-tribune.com           
Forgot Password
or if you have not registered since 8/22/18
Click Here to Create an Account

Attorney: "I made a mistake"

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The attorney for the Grant County Area Plan Commission now says he was wrong to prevent the public from recording at a meeting of the commission Monday.

“I made a mistake,” Bruce Elliott said.

At Monday's meeting, student journalists reporting for a Indiana Wesleyan University class project and student-run news site GrantCOnnected.net were told they could not record the meeting in any format. Members of the public attending the meeting were also prevented from recording on cell phones.

This has raised legal questions because Indiana Open Door Law gives the public the right to record audio and video at public meetings, according to Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.

The Area Plan Commission met to vote on a proposed hog farm that generated a large opposition from neighbors concerned about possible effects on property values and environment.

Elliott said it was his decision, not the board's or the Area Plan office's, to ban recording at Monday's meeting.

He said it's not in fact the commission's policy to not allow recording, as he had told the Chronicle-Tribune Monday, but rather it was a one-time rule put in place because of the controversial nature of Monday's vote.

The attorney said he wanted to prevent distractions and disturbances.

“Last meeting, I felt like it was distracting with individuals walking through the chambers videotaping, taking pictures, phones going off,” Elliott said. “I wanted (the board) to be able to listen to the arguments and be able to discuss the issues.”

The public access counselor said public bodies do have some discretion to make sure recording does not disrupt the proceedings of a public meeting, for example designating a specific location for cameras to be set up so that large camera rigs don't block anyone's view of the meeting, but recording can't be banned outright.

“(The law) implies a reasonable use,” Britt said.

Elliott said he felt “under the circumstances” the rule was reasonable but admitted he was aware of Open Door law and knew this could be a violation.

“I was aware that that could be an issue, but again I wanted the commission to be able to concentrate,” Elliott said.

The issue opens the commission up to challenges through the Office of the Public Access Counselor or the courts. Whether Monday's decision to deny a construction permit to local farmer Nolan Holloway would be overturned would be up to a judge to decide.

Randall King, professor of communication at IWU, said there weren't any plans to formally challenge the commission on behalf of the students.

He was pleased Wednesday that Elliott admitted he should not have prevented King's students from recording.

“I'm happy that the Plan Commission is going to follow the law,” King said.

Holloway's attorney, Brianna Schroeder, said a legal challenge on the basis of Open Door violations is one of several options on the table moving forward after Holloway's permit was denied during the meeting.