Since its founding in 1995 as FOIndiana, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government has remained a strong, unwavering voice in the fight for greater access to public records and meetings. ICOG envisions a society in which all citizens enjoy full unimpeded access to government information and the public decision-making process. We believe such access is vital to the proper functioning of our democracy.
We envision a government where public employees and elected officials act as the servants of citizens and where the system of public access is easy and inexpensive for citizens to navigate. To that end, we endorse the principles included in the preamble to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, which states: “A fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government is that government is the servant of the people and not their master. Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees.”
Some milestones in our history of access advocacy:
1995: FOIndiana is founded with an informal luncheon organized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Indiana Pro Chapter. Nine organizations with similar concerns about threats to Indiana’s laws governing open meetings and public records join under the group’s umbrella. Original affiliate organizations included the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, Protect Our Rivers Now, Society of Professional Journalists (Indiana Pro Chapter), Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana High School Press Association, Radio Television News Directors’ Association, Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists, National Press Photographers Association, and Woman’s Press Club of Indiana.
1996: FOIndiana holds its first “Right to Know Conference” in September at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, inviting consumer activist Ralph Nader as the keynote speaker. Nearly 200 people attend. A $5,000 grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation is used to underwrite the costs of the conference. See program here.
1997-1998: FOIndiana members are used as resources and sources as seven Indiana newspapers launch the nation’s first statewide audit of public records. The series revealed that many public officials in Indiana were ignorant of state records laws and there were few consequences for those in violation.
1998: FOIndiana members are featured in Central Newspapers annual report as the lone lobbyists in the Indiana Statehouse on critical access issues. Featured are Karla Cameron, Clarke Kahlo, Steve Key, Scott Hosier, Bill Theobald, Wendy Brant, David Miller, Mary Walker, Russell Phillips and Kyle Niederpruem.
1998: With the input of citizens across the state of Indiana, then Gov. Frank O’Bannon creates a new office: Public Access Counselor (read O’Bannon’s letter to state agency heads here). His first appointment, Anne O’Connor, is charged with answering questions about the state’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act. In her first two weeks, O’Connor gets 59 calls – 37 of which are from citizens.
1999: Several reforms to Indiana’s access laws are put into place, including statutory recognition of the Public Access Counselor’s office. The approval in legislation gives the office permanence as opposed to a political appointment. FOIndiana organizes its third statewide “Right to Know” conference, which is held in September at Butler University.
2000-2001: FOIndiana co-sponsors a state guidebook “The Open Door Law and the Access to Public Records Act” published by then Indiana Attorney General Jeff Modisett and the Hoosier State Press Association.
2002: FOIndiana members vote to change the group’s name to the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. Board members recommended a new brand so that people could more easily grasp the mission of the group.
2003: ICOG receives a $4,000 grant from the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation to conduct a series of strategic planning sessions. The organization also participates with the annual Spirits & Place citywide humanities event, which is broadcast on public access television.
2004: ICOG launches its website in January, giving Hoosiers a consumer friendly site to review about access issues. Included in the site are sample records request letters and links to other useful resources for local, state and federal government. Associated organizations renew commitments to access issues and become partners.
2006: ICOG hosts the national Freedom of Information Summit, which draws more than 200 people from around the country. More than 40 speakers are featured, including citizen activists and award winning journalists. Topics featured at the conference are highlighted in The Washington Post and by The Associated Press. ICOG also hosts its first fundraiser featuring then-Congressman Mike Pence.