”If Mr. Davidson requires additional information regarding an agenda item, he is welcome to make a public record request.” School City of Hammond Attorney Emma Jay
March 20, 2018-Hammond School Board approves construction related contracts through the use of a “consent agenda”
April 11, 2018-Public Access Complaint filed regarding violations of open meetings law
April 25, 2018-School Response to Public Access Complaint
May 15, 2018-Public Access Counselor issues Opinion (See http://nwigazette.com/2018/05/17/hammond-school-board-attorney-deliberation-and-forethought-not-required-before-approving-construction-architecture-contracts/ )
May 18, 2018-Documents relating to awarding of construction contracts requested
May 21, 2018-Board Attorney Emma Jay says School Board will respond by June 29, 2018
July 3, 2018-Follow-up letter seeking documents
July 7, 2018-Second Public Access Complaint filed based on refusal to timely provide documents
July 8, 2018-As the School City of Hammond pushes forward with hundreds of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts related to the construction of a new high school, the Gazette has been attempting to obtain documents relevant to the process. On March 20, 2018, the Board approved contracts for a construction manager, an architect and a bond issuer via the use of a consent agenda. A consent agenda is a process whereby items are listed for approval and voted on in bulk without discussion. As you can see below, the bond, architect and construction manager contracts were items H-K on the March 20, 2018 consent agenda:
No additional information regarding the contracts was provided to the public.
After the March 20, 2018 meeting, the Gazette filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor alleging that the Board violated the open meetings act. The Public Access Counselor explained:
In the response to that Complaint, School Board Attorney Emma Jay stated:
”If Mr. Davidson requires additional information regarding an agenda item, he is welcome to make a public record request.”
This is consistent with Indiana Law. A resident should be able to walk into a public office and ask to see documents and be permitted to see them. While there are times that documents must be located or redacted, documents which were utilized at a public meeting by Board members should be fit for public consumption. Indiana Code makes it clear that:
“Any person may inspect and copy the public records of any public agency during the regular business hours of the agency . . .” Indiana Code 5-14-3-3
On May 18, 2018, I visited the Hammond Schools Administration Building and requested a complete copy of the documents utilized by the Board to make the decision together with memoranda and e-mails relating to the awarding of the contracts. In the prior response to the Public Access Counselor, Board explained that they relied on “recommendations of staff” in approving the contracts. Thus, any communication between staff and the Board, all public records, would be imperative in learning what the Board knew at the time of the decision to award hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction related contracts. On May 21, Board Attorney Emma Jay responded that the documents would be provided by June 29-nearly a month and a half after the request and a full 3 months after the decision was made to hire a construction manager, architect and bond issuer. On July 3, 2018 I wrote to Ms. Jay informing her that I still do not have the requested documents. To date, I have received no reply.
While not required, many public bodies provide copies of relevant documents at, or prior to, a public meeting. For instance, I received an e-mail today from Michael Griffin containing the documents that the Highland Town Council will use at the scheduled July 9, 2018 public meeting. The Town of Munster posts relevant documents on their website by the Friday before a meeting. If a resident has questions, concerns or comments relating to the documents, elected officials are generally available for questioning or airing of concerns prior to any vote being taken. That is the way representative government is supposed to work.
When it comes to the School City of Hammond, however, it apparently takes a months long battle with an attorney in Indianapolis to obtain public records. Thank goodness they have all the extra referendum money to pay all of these legal fees.