On June 10 this year, Bloomington’s city council decided to hire then-deputy council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas to replace the retiring Dan Sherman. Lucas had been serving as Sherman’s deputy for about nine months.
Just after the meeting when the council voted to hire Lucas, The Square Beacon filed a request under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for an email message described during the meeting by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith.
The email message, from council president Steve Volan to the other eight councilmembers, was described as including the dollar figure for a proposed salary, and the logic supporting that level of compensation.
The city council provided the email to The Square Beacon, but redacted a substantial portion of it.
Responding to a formal complaint by The Square Beacon, Indiana’s public access counselor has recently issued an opinion that says, “[T]he email, if at all a factor in the decision, should be made public. This is even more so when the email was teased during a public meeting.” The email clearly factored into the council’s decision to hire Lucas at the proposed salary.
The opinion continues: “As a deliberative body, it certainly seems disingenuous to argue that documented deliberative material is off limits when those materials are referenced in a public meeting.”
The opinion also notes that the APRA provides the basis for a potential lawsuit against the city council: “There is indeed a cause of action for arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion in withholding public records. The Council will be well served being mindful of this going forward.”
In light of the public access counselor’s opinion, the city council finally produced the un-redacted email message.
Based on the un-redacted email, among the facts that the city council tried to shield from public view was a choice not to follow the advice of the human resources department in setting a salary range. The salary range suggested by human resources, as reported by Volan’s email, looks like it was about $10,000 lower than the one used by the council. Continue reading “Column: Indiana’s public access counselor opinion shows Bloomington’s city council has a transparency problem”