By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
Tipton — An ongoing problem in Tipton County has been the lack of minutes from the meetings of the county council and county commissioners. The Indiana Public Access Counselor is now weighing in with a critical opinion against Auditor Gregg Townsend.
Joe Hoage, Public Access Counselor, issued advisory opinion in which he ruled Townsend failed to provide the minutes of several meetings in November and December and from May 31, 2011 in a reasonable amount of time.
“The Public Access Counselor can’t issue a fine,” he said of the advisory opinion findings. “Only a judge can issue a fine, someone would have to take the complaint to court.”
Townsend has repeatedly said he is working on completing the minutes and several times has said they would be done “soon.”
Hoage’s opinion was based on a complaint filed Jan. 23 by Jane Harper, a former Tipton County Commissioner. Harper requested the minutes from the Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 regular meetings of the Board of Commissioners and executive sessions on Dec. 6, Dec. 11 and Dec. 13. She also requested the May 31, 2011 meeting minutes from the Tipton County Council meeting.
The commissioners approved a contract with the Tipton County Economic Development Organization Nov. 5 and signed the economic development with juwi Wind for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm Nov. 19.
At the county council meeting of May 31, 2011 the council approved the tax abatement requested by E-on Climate & Renewables for the Wildcat Wind Farm, which was completed last year.
John Brooke, Tipton County attorney, told Harper Jan. 11 that her request was acknowledged.
Brooke responded to Hoage that as Feb. 14 the minutes were not completed and would be provided to her once completed.
In that response, Brooke said Townsend was not the auditor in May 2011 and the minutes had not been completed by former Auditor Mandy Inman. He said a member of the county council volunteered to create the minutes from that meeting.
Hoage wrote in his opinion that the Indiana Open Door Law requires the minutes be available within a reasonable amount of time referring to the Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 minutes.
“It is my opinion that the auditor acted contrary to the requirements of the ODL by failing to prepare the memoranda over three months after the meetings of the board took place,” he said.
Hoage determined that the auditor again failed to comply with the laws requirements by failing to prepare the minutes from the May 31, 2012 council meeting.
He also found that Townsend failed to comply with the laws by failing to provide the minutes from the two executive sessions, which would contain limited information.