Public Access Counselor: Madison County violated Open Door Law in distribution of ARP funds

·2 min read

Jun. 2—ANDERSON — The Indiana Public Access Counselor has ruled Madison County was in violation of the state's open door law concerning the American Rescue Plan funding.

Public Access Counselor Luke Britt issued an advisory opinion on a complaint filed by local resident Sean Smith in March.

The complaint by Smith was filed shortly after the Madison County Commissioners approved without public comment spending $3 million of the $25.1 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding.

The county is expected to start the review process this month for the next round of ARP funding requests.

The ruling has no impact on the distribution of the first ARP funds by the county, but could require the committee and Council of Governments meeting to be advertised and open to the public.

The Commissioners vote was based on a recommendation by a committee and a recommendation by the Madison County Council of Governments (COG).

The committee meeting and the COG meeting to consider 40 applications for ARP funding were not advertised nor open to the public.

"It is the opinion of this office that Madison County and its agencies did not provide adequate public notice of the meetings of its committees when they were taking official action on public business," Britt concluded.

The county through attorney Jeff Graham took the position that the ARP advisory committee is not a governing body of the Madison County Board of Commissioners as defined by the open door law.

"The County asks this office to take a position whereby a governing body can outsource its work to a third-party group of designees as an end-around to the Open Door Law," Britt said. "It does so in light of a significant amount of public money. This office declines to do so."

The Commissioners adopted a resolution in November that included guidelines for the distribution of the funds and creation of a Project Review Committee.

"The review committee is, unquestionably, a deliberative assembly akin to a board, commission, council, or other body," Britt said. "It seemingly has power to exercise a function, taking official action on public business."

Britt stated the committee is doing legitimate public business and was commissioned to perform county business.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.