INDIANAPOLIS – Because of strong interest by citizens in this year’s Public Access Seminar series, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office has posted an online video of the training sessions on public records laws and open meeting laws on its web site.
This year’s second annual Public Access Seminar series was held in 11 locations around Indiana starting in June that culminated in last Wednesday’s session in Greenfield, Ind. A total of 674 people signed up to attend the trainings, which also counted as 2.0 hours of free continuing legal education (CLE) for attorneys. Zoeller said he was pleased that one third of this year’s attendees – 219 people overall – were neither attorneys nor government employees but instead private citizens, and noted that more people can benefit from viewing the online video of the trainings.
“The public should not automatically trust government, and we who serve in government must earn the public’s trust every day. When citizens can participate and readily access their government records and attend government meetings as the law intends, the system is more transparent and accountable. Through the Public Access Seminars, we trained interested citizens on obtaining public information so they can make informed decisions about their state and communities,” Zoeller said.
For those who could not attend one of this year’s sessions, an online training video – edited from a video of one of the seminars – is posted at the Attorney General’s web site at this link: http://www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2471.htm
The Office of the Indiana Attorney General sponsored the 2012 Public Access Seminar series, along with the Office of the Public Access Counselor and the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA). Citizens, government officials, law enforcement officers, educators and attorneys attended the 10 free evening sessions (as well as one afternoon session), which were co-sponsored by local newspapers or academic organizations. A similar series was held in eight locations in 2011.
During the panel discussions, experts discussed citizens’ rights and officials’ responsibilities under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act and Indiana Open Door Law. The panelists also discussed House Enrolled Act 1003 the Legislature passed this year that for the first time imposes fines on certain public officials who knowingly withhold public records or deny access to meetings – $100 for the first violation and $500 for additional violations. The panelists provided practical examples of how public records requests should be initiated by citizens and addressed by officials and attorneys, and audience members could ask questions.
“Hoosier State Press Association was proud to be a part of this effort to inform Hoosiers of their rights and government officials’ obligations in a transparent democratic system. At each stop, there were thoughtful questions raised by participants. It bolstered my belief that most public officials want to do what’s right and that many citizens want to be involved in how local decisions are made. The Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act and Public Notice Advertising Law make it possible,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel of the HSPA.
“The citizens of the state should never hesitate to contact the Public Access Counselor’s Office should they ever have a question regarding the Open Door Law or the Access to Public Records Act,” added Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage, whose office issues advisory legal opinions concerning public records and meetings. The Public Access Counselor’s Office can be reached at 317.234.0906 or at www.in.gov/pac
Key and Hoage were panelists at the training sessions, along with Deputy Attorney General Anne Mullin O’Connor who was the state’s first public access counselor, Deputy Attorney General Matt Light who is chief counsel of the AG’s Office’s Advisory Division and Deputy Attorney General Misty Mercer, also with the Advisory Division. Attorney General Zoeller also spoke at some of the sessions, and he said the seminars might be scheduled again in future years based on the interest level.
Zoeller thanked the local media outlets and organizations that co-sponsored, promoted or helped arrange facilities for each of the local seminar events around Indiana this summer and fall. The 2012 locations, dates and co-sponsors were as follows:
• Indianapolis, June 19, two sessions at two locations, Indianapolis Star
• South Bend, June 26, South Bend Tribune
• Bloomington, July 26, Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies at the IU School of Journalism
• Sellersburg, August 16, News and Tribune
• Auburn, Ind. August 23, KPC Media Group
• Logansport, September 6, Kokomo Tribune and Logansport Pharos-Tribune
• Portland, Ind., October 4, The Commercial Review
• Washington, Ind., October 9, Washington Times Herald
• Corydon, October 17, The Corydon Democrat newspaper
• Greenfield, November 14, The Daily Reporter