September 9, 2012

Keeping the public informed

— Folks who wanted to be on hand for the final vote on a proposed incentive for a new five-screen movie theater might have missed their chance.

Logansport City Council members had tried to take a final vote at the same meeting where they gave the matter its initial approval, but supporters of the move lacked the votes for the required suspension of the rules.

During that meeting, Mayor Ted Franklin had indicated he would call another meeting for the following Friday, but in a discussion after the meeting, council members noted that they already had a meeting scheduled for the next day. Why not take the vote then, someone suggested.

So they did.

The result was predictable. The measure passed by the same 4-3 vote it had attracted the first time around.

So why does it matter when the council voted? In a lot of ways, it probably doesn’t. Council members had already made up their minds how they were going to vote, so any last-minute pleas by opponents of the move likely wouldn’t have changed the final result.

Still, it was the principle of the thing. Shouldn’t council members have made sure members of the public knew when the vote would be so that they could show up and make their feelings heard?

I think they should have. In a contentious issue such as this, public officials should bend over backward to make sure everyone has an adequate chance to be heard.

Panelists at last week’s public access seminar agreed.

“They’ll probably catch some heat over that,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association.

He and other panelists agreed, though, that the council had done nothing illegal. There is no requirement that governmental bodies even have an agenda, they said, and there’s also nothing to keep those bodies from changing the agenda right up to the time of the meeting.

“So as long as they gave proper notice of the meeting, they’re OK,” Key said.

That’s not the situation in every state. In Texas, for example, governmental bodies have to post an agenda 48 hours in advance, and they can’t change the  agenda without that same amount of notice.

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