Delaware County Council members reportedly huddled privately before public meeting

MUNCIE, Ind. − The Delaware County Council met in regular session Tuesday and made a myriad of appointments to local board and commissions. At least one council member says the appointments appear to have been previously discussed by board members in private during a Republican Party caucus, where a majority of the board was present.

"It's unfortunate that the entire Delaware County Council, with the exception of Jane Lasater, who is in Florida, and myself because I wasn't invited, met in secret under the guise of a 'Republican Caucus' for the sole purpose of discussing the upcoming board and committee appointments," said At-Large Council Member Ryan Webb Tuesday, after the public council meeting. "This is a clear open door violation."

Ryan Webb
Ryan Webb

Indiana law requires meetings of a majority of a public governing body be conducted in public except in certain circumstances usually involving personnel and legal action.

Webb said the meeting of five of the seven council members was done to exclude him from the discussion. The council member has at times been at odds with fellow Republicans, including harsh and critical statements made on social media.

City Council attorney Ben Freeman said Indiana law permits discussion about public policy issues during a political party caucus, according to an Indiana Supreme Court ruling from the 1990s. He and Council President Jessica Piper both said the meeting was legal and involved no decisions, no polling of where the council members stood on any issue and no outright votes.

When asked if the Council could have a private discussion on any controversial matter by the calling of a party caucus, he again referred to the Indiana Supreme Court ruling.

But Amelia D. McClure, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, says that if it was a meeting to discuss potential appointments to community boards, it probably should have been a public meeting.

The HSPA handbook provides an example about a city's police commissioners gathering to discuss previously interviewed job candidates prior to a formal vote on the hiring. Such a meeting qualifies as a public under the Indiana Open Door Act

The Star Press has requested a ruling on the matter by Luke Britt, the Indiana Public Access counselor. Among other duties, the counselor issues advisory opinions to interpret the public access laws upon request.

An opinion, by law, should be issued within 30 days. The council will have an opportunity to present it's case for the caucus meeting to the counselor.

Britt said in cases involving political party caucuses, he usually looks at the content of the meeting and whether it was political in nature or something else. Based on what he had heard of the council meeting to this point, he said it sounded as if it should have been open to the public.

Webb aired his concerns during the Tuesday meeting. The appointments were made, often with more than one candidate brought forward for a particular position and with many candidates receiving more than one vote.

As the council meeting ended, Webb said he thought that everyone brought forward to serve on the boards and commissions was capable and would do a good job.

"Just for the record and going forward, any meetings with the entirety of the council, number one, should include me and number two, should be on record," Webb said.

This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: County Council members huddled ahead of public meeting on appointments