Public Meetings Behind Locked Doors

What happens when the doors are locked while a public meeting is in progress? Don’t know about you, but we call it a lockout.

The public was essentially locked out of an Indiana Air Pollution Control Board meeting in May at the Indiana Government Center South when the meeting ran into overtime. As the doors locked at close of business, citizens couldn’t get in. The meeting was set to review Indiana’s proposed power plant mercury rule, a fairly significant policy hearing.

“Citizens attending the meeting learned of this situation and alerted IDEM staff, who asked building staff to stand by several doors to let in anyone trying to attend. However, it is not known how many individuals tried to gain access after the doors were locked, but before building staff were alerted, and were thus unable to attend the public meeting,” according to a letter from Tim Maloney with the Hoosier Environmental Council.

HEC asked for a clarification from various officials, including the governor’s office.

“We know that IDEM, as well as … other agencies, hold many public meetings and hearings in the government center buildings … Full access to government meetings and activities is what makes democratic government effective, besides being what is required by law.”

The state’s Public Access Counselor issued an informal opinion to IDEM: “It is my opinion that the technical violation, holding a meeting in a building that was locked during about 30 minutes of the meeting, did not significantly deny or impair the public’s access to the meeting, and also did not significantly prevent or impair public knowledge or understanding of the public’s business. The (board) met the substantial compliance standard under the facts as presented.”