The Gazette requested “draft meeting agenda” for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) November meeting. Public Access Counselor says RDA violated the law in failing to respond.
February 1, 2018-The Indiana Public Access Counselor has ruled that the RDA violated the Indiana Public Records Act when it failed to turn over documents relating to the proposed six-figure bonus to be provided President and CEO Bill Hanna. The Gazette learned through sources that the RDA intended to provide Hanna with a $30,000 cash bonus plus student loan repayment which was “over $100,000” according to two sources. In an effort to provide our readers with the most accurate information, we requested the draft agenda. The November meeting was delayed for several minutes, presumably while the agenda was edited, after several members of the Board refused to go along with the six-figure bonus plan. In their response to the Public Access Counselor, which you can see below, the RDA admits that the salary and bonus proposals were on the draft agenda.
The public record request was described as “among the more mundane” of public record requests. Despite that, we still do not have the records ten weeks after the request. The public access counselor found that the Fesko led RDA violated the law:
Fesko’s RDA violated public access laws.
How Did They Know Six-Figure Bonus Wouldn’t be Approved?
More important than the production of the documents, the request and the response raise serious questions about the way the Board operates. The RDA is run by Governor Eric Holcomb’s Appointment, Donald P. Fesko. Fesko has absolute veto authority over anything that the unelected Board approves. In the present case, the question is how did Fesko know that the Board would vote against the Hanna bonus before the meeting. These decisions are supposed to be made at public meetings and not before. The RDA rarely has any dissension, or discussion for that matter, on important issues facing the Board. For instance, in September the RDA Board approved $750M in borrowing without discussion. Is it possible the Board is making these decisions via e-mail discussions, outside of public view?
Who is Responsible for This Mess?
NWI representatives Hal Slager (R-15) and Ed Soliday (R-4) are the leading cheerleaders for the nonelected board. Every legislative session the pair proposes more power be transferred from local elected officials to Fesko’s dictatorial RDA. Last year, Slager and Soliday pushed through House Bill 1144 despite protests by local government leaders that the bill created a “shadow government” and was a “hot pile of garbage bill.” Holcomb has pushed for similar legislation throughout the State.
You can read the full opinion as well as the RDA justification for the refusal, below. Click for larger images: