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Munster native leads access panel

Munster native leads access panel

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Section: bL PAGE: 01

Date: 05/16/98

Head: Munster native leads access panel.

By: SUSAN BROWN

Rep. Mark Kruzan, D-Bloomington, has been appointed chairman of the

legislative committee that will explore the openness of Indiana's public access

laws.

Although all 12 members of the committee have not yet been announced, also

on board is Rep. Dale Sturtz, D-LaGrange, a former county sheriff.

Sheriff's departments fared the worst during a recent newspaper

investigation of how public officials respond to the Indiana Open Door Law and

Access to Public Records Law.

"He's a great asset to the committee because as a former sheriff he can

bring the expertise I and other members lack," Kruzan said.

"The purpose (of the committee) will be to strengthen and clarify public

access laws," he said. "I am open to all topics ranging from simply increasing

education about public record and open door laws all the way to a fine for

violations."

Kruzan said the committee will look at what other states are doing on the

issue.

"And I will take a look at an independent commission that can act as an

intermediary so public citizens don't have to hire an attorney to access

information they own."

Following the February publication of "The State of Secrecy" series by seven

newspapers, which disclosed repeated violations of public access laws,

legislators expanded the committee's scope. It originally had been charged with

reviewing only the money citizens are being charged by public officials to copy

what are really their own documents.

The statewide audit was conducted by The Times of Northwest Indiana, The

Indianapolis Star and News, The South Bend Tribune, The Star Press of Muncie,

The Tribune Star of Terre Haute, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne and The

Evansville Courier.

The series revealed the problems are far more widespread than copying costs,

with sheriff's departments the worst violators.

Kruzan said the third member of the Democratic House caucus who will join

the committee is John Frenz, D-Vincennes. Kruzan emphasized, however, that the

committee will be nonpartisan and the "working groups" he will appoint to

research the issue will include all sides to the issue.

The remainder of the committee will be composed of three Democrats and

Republicans from each chamber of the legislature.

Kruzan's selection to lead the committee may be a sign its results will be

taken with some seriousness.

Kruzan, a 1978 Munster High School graduate, doesn't flinch in his belief in

the First Amendment. As an aspiring journalist editing his high school paper,

he learned the dangers of censorship early.

He had just read his textbook's chapter on censorship when he was faced with

the school district's attempt to halt publication of a story on a controversial

labor issue at the high school.

While studying journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington, Kruzan

decided to pursue careers in law and government instead, but he never forgot

the lesson.

"We ought to be questioning the people who are making the decisions that

affect our lives and spending our money doing it," he said.

"The (newspaper) series identified some really egregious violations, and

while I believe those to be the exception rather than the practice, they're

clearly a pattern."

Sturtz, the former sheriff, said he was asked to join the committee in light

of the sheriff's departments' actions.

Sturtz was sheriff of LaGrange County, population 30,000, for more than 10

years before leaving the position in 1990.

As sheriff, Sturtz attended FBI training in Quantico, Va.

"One of the main topics was how to deal with the press, and I learned a

great deal," he said. "I just hope I can add a little insight."

Sturtz has gone from having a good working relationship with the press as

sheriff to a state representative who fields complaints from people who can't

get death certificates.

"I think (the committee) is going to be a lot of work," he said.

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