Public Shut Out of Fort Wayne Meeting

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Overflow crowd spurs complaint

Many kept out of City Council meeting

By Benjamin Lanka
The Journal Gazette

A city resident Wednesday filed a complaint with the Indiana public access counselor because dozens of people were not allowed into Tuesday night’s Fort Wayne City Council meeting.

Jeff Pruitt wrote that almost 100 residents were barred from entering the meeting after the council’s meeting room was full. He said that action broke state law that requires government meetings be open for the public to observe and record.

“The meeting was not open for all of the public to observe and record as the doors were shut and citizens were not freely allowed to enter,” he wrote.

The council typically meets in a much larger room on the first floor of the City-County Building, but it has met in a smaller room on the second floor during the summer as its regular room undergoes renovations.

The room it used Tuesday seats about 50 people.

Clerk Sandy Kennedy said the room the council is using is the only place available for regular meetings. She said the council has no idea how many people are going to be at a particular council meeting, but the city wasn’t going to break fire code that limits the number of people in a room.

She also said everyone who wanted to speak during the public comment portion, which is why many of the people at the meeting attended, got a chance to speak, including those waiting outside the room.

Heather Neal, the Indiana Public Access counselor, said meetings are supposed to be open to everyone, but there is no specific requirement for how large a meeting room has to be for a public body. She said the fact the meeting was televised on public access television and held in a normal meeting room leads her to believe the meeting was held legally.

“It sounds to me they didn’t violate the spirit of the law, but I don’t know what a court would say,” she said.

Neal said she will ask the city why it chose the specific room, and she is mandated to issue an opinion on the matter by Aug. 24.

blanka@jg.net