Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 22, 2013

Tipton County Council cited for violating Indiana Open Door Law

Gov’t president says he never received complaint

By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer

— TIPTON — Indiana’s public access counselor says a December meeting of the Tipton County Council was conducted in violation of the state’s Open Door Law.

A complaint was filed Dec. 4 by Tipton resident Brenda Steen. She alleged four members of the council met at the Tipton County Foundation Dec. 3 without proper notification to the public.

In the complaint Steen said Scott Friend, president of the Tipton County Council, contacted members of the council and informed them of the meeting set for 5 p.m. The meeting was called to discuss the Tipton County Information Technology Department, which is overseen by Bill Steen.

Steen said three council members were at the meeting: Friend, Suzanne Alexander and Dennis Henderson. Steen said the meeting had not been advertised. She reportedly told council members if they proceeded with the meeting, it would be in violation of the Open Door Law.

When a fourth council member, Madonna Alderson, arrived, Alexandria left, leaving the council without a quorum. Several members of the public were at the meeting, including a reporter from the Tipton Tribune.

Friend never responded to the complaint. Joe Hoage, public access counselor, issued an opinion Dec. 31.

“The burden is on the Council to demonstrate that it complied with the requirements of the ODL (Open Door Law), including providing the necessary notice,” Hoage wrote. “Without the benefit of a response from the Council, it has failed to demonstrate that it complied with the ODL; as such, it is my opinion that the Council violated the ODL by failing to provide proper notice for the meeting held on Dec. 3, 2012.”

Steen brought the violation opinion to members of the Tipton County Council at their Jan. 15 meeting. Steen said she was not seeking a monetary fine against the council as a result of the violation.

The complaint was initially faxed by the Public Access Counselor’s Office to the Tipton County Recorder’s Office, and eventually given to the auditor’s office to contact Friend.

Friend said Monday he knew about the complaint but never received a copy of it.

“That’s why I didn’t respond,” he said.

Auditor Greg Townsend said Monday it’s his recollection that Friend was called and told to pick up a copy of the complaint at the auditor’s office.

Townsend said he had no documentation that Friend ever received the formal complaint filed by Steen.

Former county councilman Brad Nichols said the first he learned of the complaint and the opinion of the violation of the Open Door Law was during the council meeting Jan. 15.

“I remember the meeting,” Nichols said. “I thought it was something that would happen in 2013 and the new council members should be involved. I had no clue there was a potential issue.”