VALPARAISO | For the second time in about eight months, the Valparaiso School Board received a mild rebuke from the state's public access counselor for violating the open meetings law.
A complaint was filed by Scott Smith, a former city resident now living in Lowell, concerning the notice for the board's March 19 executive session. The notice cited the specific code listing to explain the reason for the executive session but failed to include the statute language, which meant the public would have to look up the code.
A similar complaint filed by Smith in August resulted in the same ruling by Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage that the code language also is required in the meeting notice.
School Board Attorney David Hollenbeck called the law "significantly ambiguous as to the need to include the statutory language as well as the statutory cite" in his response to Hoage's notification of the most recent complaint.
Hollenbeck said Wednesday that "many units of government simply cite the statute because it is unequivocal and there can be no question of the reason for the meeting." Although disagreeing the law requires the additional information, Hollenbeck said the school district's procedures were changed after the August opinion to include it.
"Unfortunately, the executive session notice for the March 19 executive session failed to include the statutory language," Hollenbeck's response stated. "The failure was inadvertent and inconsistent with practices established by the Valparaiso Community Schools since your Aug. 27, 2012, correspondence."
Hollenbeck said he met again with the school staff that prepares the notices and provided additional instructions, emphasizing the need to comply with the access counselor's opinion. He blamed the mistake in part on the "significant administrative turnover, including an entirely new central office staff" during the past several months.
Violation of the state law does not result in any penalties against the district.
Smith said, "The public access counselor had warned the School Board about the noncompliance in a previous advisory opinion. There is no excuse for this violation."