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Contempt for public

What happened Monday at the Grant County Area Plan Commission was jarring in its disrespect for the public. The commission refused to allow journalists from Indiana Wesleyan University to video record an important meeting about the fate of a proposed confined animal feeding operation near Marion.

That these people were student journalists is not relevant to their right to record the meeting. That they were any kind of journalists is not relevant. All members of the public have the same rights to watch and record public meetings of our government. The government is supposed to work for us, and we can record members of a public commission when they are in public. But too many government officials in Grant County appear to believe they know better.

Bruce Elliott, attorney for the Plan Commission, on Wednesday admitted he was wrong in banning recordings of the meeting, as he was trying to keep the meeting from getting out of hand because many people were angry at the prospect of the CAFO being developed where plans called for it to be built.

We are glad Elliott knows he was wrong. But opting to do the wrong thing is a problem in Grant County.

At Marion City Hall, the mayor expresses his pain at public debate on matters of concern until after private meetings have been conducted with him, executive sessions for boards overseeing towns and schools are as common as open meetings and now, in a pinch, the Area Plan Commission forbade their patrons to record what commission members do or say in public meetings.

After the meeting, Elliott spewed nonsense at a reporter who followed him to his car trying to get an answer about why the Indiana Open Door Law was violated.

Elliott said cameras were not allowed in courtrooms in Indiana. Of course the Plan Commission was not in a courtroom, it was in a meeting room conducting a public meeting.

“Our rules of procedure say that the Area Plan Commission may record. So we are the ones recording,” Elliott said.

So the attorney’s argument was that it’s our rules and our board and our business and the public can and should flip sand.

There is a failure to understand that local government belongs to the people who live under the decisions of the councils, boards and commissions throughout the county.

The law, which Elliott and the commission should have been concerned with but weren’t, says: “Governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to observe and record them.”

It has been the law for a while now. Elliott knew it was the law and knew what happened was wrong and contrary to the law, which is why we think he led our reporter on a near chase to his car after the meeting.

Monday night, other citizens at the meeting were observed being told by Grant County Sheriff’s deputies not to record the meeting with their cell phone. That is also not right. We encourage those who were denied complete access to the meeting to seek a ruling from the office of the Indiana Public Access Counselor. The state opinion would put the commission members on notice not to further break the law and would certainly encourage other public bodies to follow the law. The process is easy. Contact the Counselor at www.in.gov/pac/.

The irony is that commission members, who thought they were finally done with the agonizing CAFO issue, could be frustrated to find that since the meeting violated the Open Meetings Law, their vote to reject the project is legally not binding. They could have to do the whole thing over. Here’s hoping they have a smile for the camera next time.