FAILURE: Hammond School Board Fails to Provide Public Docs . . . AGAIN

”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.

9 Comments

  1. I dont believe the Public Access counselor’s construal of the legal citation herein, IC 5-14-1.5-4(a) is accurate or valid law re consent agendas, to wit: that there is a general prohibition against taking sweeping vote on final actions WITHOUT a discussion. It happens all the time, especially with respect to recurring matters in conducting the ordinary business of any governing board. Public discussion is generally shunned, evaded of circumvented by open caucus meeting. In general public discussion seems the last thing our public officials desire or promote. And you can forget all those preambles to Open Door Laws identifying the purpose of ODL provisions as a means that ensure public officials remain public servants, and not its masters. That language and those provisions have long been superseded and buried by amendments.

    • George: I posted a link to the entire opinion. I don’t think that is what the PAC was saying. In short, I think he was saying I understand that there are some things that don’t require discussion but construction contracts are probably not among them. In fact, this particular consent agenda included many items. I complained only about items H-K. The crucial, unanswered question, in my opinion is how did the Board members come to consensus? Were there communications outside the meeting which would have violated the open meetings law. The documents will go a long way toward answering that question.

    • P.S. I think “sweeping” is the key word. Votes without discussion happen all the time, mass voting on multiple issues rarely happens. You attend a lot of meetings, maybe more than I do, have you seen a consent agenda utilized anywhere except Gary schools and Hammond schools?

      How many other horrific policies and procedures did Pritchett and Boone bring with them from Gary?

  2. Well,at some point the property taxes in Hammond will be more than property owners (or their tenants via rent increases)will bear. When the casino money dries up,the mass exodus starts,and it’ll be a vicious cycle. In 10 years,we’ll see if I’m right or wrong.

    • The mass exodus is already happening. Besides the property taxes going up with this referendum,here in my neighborhood we are going to be sandwiched in by a commuter train at the west end of our streets,Waltham, Lewis, and Highland, and a sports stadium for the new high school at the east end of our streets.The civil city is possibly going to vacate a portion of Sohl, and giving it to the SCH for their sports stadium/fields.Several people in my neighborhood have already sold their homes, and more are talking about putting their houses up for sale. Property taxes on a house close by me went up 1/3 with the first part of the referendum, and that was only the 70 million part, not the 110 million. Wait until that one hits. Speaking of referendums, look for another one to hit next year or the year after, as the SCH is crying about the 400 million needed to fix the existing school buildings, including the newer ones.

  3. Vote for new board members in the coming election. The schools are the last thing that needs to be fixed in Hammond and then it is perfect. Dr Watkins and the School Board have continuously failed the children and residents of Hammond.

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