Gary airport authority violated open door law

2013-02-22T11:00:00Z 2013-02-22T18:58:03Z Gary airport authority violated open door lawKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
February 22, 2013 11:00 am  • 

The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority violated Indiana's Open Door Law at a Feb. 4 executive session by discussing a proposed General Assembly bill on airport governance as well as improperly noticing the meeting.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage has issued an informal opinion this week pointing out the airport authority by its own subsequent admission discussed matters in the executive session not allowed under the law as well as not citing in its meeting notice all issues to be discussed.

"There really is no way out of violating the notice provision if you discuss things not allowed in the executive session," Hoage said Friday.

The Times inquiry was made after Gary Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson exited the Feb. 4 executive session and told a Times reporter she had discussed Senate Bill 585 with the airport authority in the closed meeting. Executive sessions are closed to the public and media.

At a meeting open to the public immediately after, the airport authority authorized spending up to $10,000 to hire a legislative consultant to monitor Senate Bill 585. The city was to put up a like amount.

Hoage's informal opinion stated the authority did not violate the Open Door Law by inviting the mayor if her presence was necessary to carry out the purpose of the meeting.

In a Feb. 20 response to an inquiry from Hoage, Gary airport interim director Steve Landry acknowleged: "In hindsight, discussions about securing a legislative consultant should not have taken place in Executive Session."

Landry also pointed out no final decisions were made during the executive session, which also would have been a violation of the law.

Senate Bill 585 was proposed by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. It dealt mainly with securing a land based casino for Gary, but also would have reconstituted the Gary airport authority board in a way that would have ended the city of Gary's majority control.

The bill has been substantially whittled down since early February. Among those changes, the part stripping the city of Gary of majority control of the airport authority has been dropped.

Indiana's Open Door Law was first enacted in 1977 and requires that meetings of public agencies be open to the public. It allows meetings of public agencies to be held behind closed doors only on a narrow range of issues, including when discussing pending lawsuits or potential real estate purchases.

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