Employees of Madison County government, notably those in planning departments, should start taking Anderson resident Sean Smith a little more seriously.

Unless of course they are just trying to foil his efforts in pushing the county to be transparent in its work.

Smith recently received an opinion from the Indiana Public Access Counselor supporting his contention that a Madison County committee violated the Open Door Law by not publicizing its meeting and making the meeting open to the public.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke H. Britt agreed with Smith. The case involves the Madison County Council of Governments (MCCOG), the regional planning agency for the county, cities and towns.

Smith’s initial complaint maintained that the Madison County Commissioners violated Indiana Open Door Law when an advisory committee held a meeting without proper notification to the public.

The Project Review Committee — actually appointed by MCCOG, not the commissioners — was formed last year to evaluate disbursements from the American Rescue Plan.

There’s already been concern about ARP funds because the county has already decided on how to spend $3 million of ARP funds without any public input or public comment.

MCCOG receives public funds so, Britt wrote, “it is likely, however, that MCCOG would qualify as a public agency.” That means that when it takes official actions, it must do so openly.

Smith knows how to file complaints. This was his fourth involving Madison County. Two resulted in public access counselor opinions in his favor. A third opinion agreed in part with Smith but merely urged the Madison County Planning Commission to update its land use and development code to conform to the Open Door Law. A fourth opinion stated that a delay in getting information to Smith was justified.

After four complaints, the county apparently has not caught on in how to properly respond to Smith’s requests, which raises concern as to how it treats other members of the public.

Britt offered an outline for government employees who question whether a meeting or record is open to the public: “All doubts must be resolved in favor of requiring a public meeting and all exceptions to the rule requiring open meetings must be narrowly construed with the burden of proving the exception on the party claiming it.”

Hence, if a Madison County agency is taking official action on public business, the meeting should be open to the public.

County workers shouldn’t just cave to requests like Smith’s. There are some exceptions, as when a matter of litigation is discussed in an executive session. But every employee should know that public business is public.

Madison County residents shouldn’t have to wait for Sean Smith to file a complaint.

All agencies of Indiana government — from state to township — should be accountable to the public. Smith is doing his part to ensure that they are.
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