Unequal Public Notice Footing: Media 1, Public Zip

The Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations spends considerable time monitoring the activities of local government agencies such as zoning boards. But when Pat Andrews, vice president of MCANA, tried recently to get notice of a township board meeting—she was flatly denied and told that notice went to media only.
Decatur Township Trustee Steve Rink told her he wasn’t legally required to give Andrews notice. And he was right. The law specifically requires agencies to send notices directly to media outlets that make written requests annually, but citizens and active neighborhood associations don’t get the same treatment under Indiana law.
So how are citizens supposed to find out about meetings that affect them?
The statute requires agency officials to post meeting notices outside their doors at least 48 hours before the meetings. There also are certain events, such as budget hearings, that require publication of notice in newspapers as well.
But just because the law doesn’t require direct notices to citizens, that doesn’t mean the agency is not allowed to give such notice. Citizens should remind agencies of that distinction. An agency could create an opt-in email group to send out mass notice of meetings.
If the agency declines to do so, there is no legal recourse, but try to get officials on the record about a refusal. Consider writing a letter to a local newspaper, which might help generate public pressure.
“From a Democracy point of view, there’s an attitude from smaller governmental units like Boss Hog— ‘If there’s something you need to know, I’ll make sure to tell you.’ ”
While public notice advertising sections of newspapers often list governmental news in agate type, Andrews said many citizens neither have the time nor inclination to pore through the fine print.
“If a government agency has a Web site, it can be posted on a prominent place—where you can surf with some regularity,” she suggested.
Indiana lawmakers have tried to establish criteria for public agencies to give interested citizens or civic groups direct notices of meetings, but the efforts have been opposed by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Association of Indiana Counties (frequent opponents of open access measures).