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HAMMOND — Peggy Hinckley, emergency manager for Gary schools, did not violate the state's open records law last year when she held a series of informal meetings with board members to discuss school business, a Lake Superior Court judge has ruled. 

A suit alleging she violated open door policies was filed last year by Gary attorney Clorius Lay on behalf of Gary citizen Derrick A. Hill. 

A ruling was issued June 27 in the case. 

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Bruce Parent states Indiana's 2017 takeover law designated Gary Community School Corp. as financially distressed and appointed an emergency manager — Hinckley — to return the school district to financial stability with oversight from Indiana's Distressed Unit Appeals Board. 

The takeover law stripped the Gary School Board of its governing powers, Parent stated in his ruling.

Upon appointment of the emergency manager and involvement from the DUAB, the Gary School Board "no longer possessed the ability to gather to 'take official action on public business,'" and was therefore "no longer subject to Indiana's Open Door Law," Parent stated in his ruling.

The state's Open Door Law requires that all meetings of governing bodies be publicized and open to the public. 

"The Court finally found that the General Assembly was clear that it did not intend for the Open Door Law to apply to the emergency manager or to the acting emergency manager, in this situation," Parent ruled. 

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The state's public access counselor, Luke Britt, ruled in a similar fashion after Hill filed a formal complaint with his office, saying the School Board was stripped of its authority to conduct official business upon designation as a distressed political subdivision. 

Hinckley had little to say about the ruling when reached for comment Tuesday. 

"To be honest, this was filed so long ago, I have no comment. This was from the early days and I think we're grateful it's resolved," Hinckley said. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.