Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 23, 2014

Jan. 23, 2014: Letters to the editor

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Tipton Co. must stop abusing legal help

Tipton County citizens need to be aware that, from 2009 to 2012, the county spent an average of just under $24,000 per year on legal services paid to county attorney John Brooke. In 2013, his bills totaled more than $47,000.

This is almost double what the county was paying the previous four years. This increase is obviously related to having Brooke attend nearly every commissioners meeting and writing the minutes for board meetings. Another expense now being incurred is having the attorney write all of the answers to complaints filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. These complaints are due to citizens not receiving public record documents from the Auditor’s Office in a timely manner and Open Door Law violations. I have learned that in the past, there were rarely any complaints about not receiving public documents on time, and any Open Door Law violation responses were handled by the officials being accused of the violation.

Now we have the county attorney answering the complaints, instead of the public official who is being paid with our tax dollars and who could take care of these responses. Mr. Brooke wrote responses for Auditor Townsend, Plan Director Edson and Plan Commission President Jason Henderson, all of whom receive a salary from the county. There were also three complaints of Open Door Law violations against the Board of Zoning Appeals. What is really strange is that the president of this board, Jerry Acres, who is not paid a cent by the county, wrote and submitted his own responses to the public access counselor and did not charge the county anything for his time. According to the Indiana public access counselor website, it ruled in favor of Mr. Acres every time and said he and the board never violated any Open Door Laws. On one, it said the board took action on an item not placed on the agenda, but the commissioners do that nearly every meeting and somehow that is OK.

Why do we have a volunteer board member issuing responses, but paid officials enlist the services of the county attorney? The auditor, plan director, and plan commission president cost us hundreds of dollars in services they could have handled. In another instance involving an Open Door Law complaint with the county council, the county spent more than $5,000 responding to the public access counselor, when the county auditor could have written it.

The Office of the Public Access Counselor is not even an enforcement agency, so if it were to rule that there was a violation, there is no penalty, just bad press. I would like to know why each board receiving complaints doesn’t just do what Mr. Acres did for the county for free and have the head of the board being complained about just write the response? After all, they are already getting paid by the county.

Mr. Brooke’s contract with the county refers to the services he will provide “as posed by the Executive Director or his staff and all other matters directed by Tipton.” Who is “the Executive Director and his staff"? I thought the contract was with the county commissioners!

These facts support that the commissioners are wasting our tax money on the overuse of the county attorney, and it needs to end. Thank you to Mr. Acres for taking the time to write his own responses. Other board members should follow in his footsteps.

Nancy Carney