ELKHART — A Republican city council member has filed a formal complaint regarding the private meeting conducted last week by mayor Dick Moore’s sewer task force.
Brian Dickerson, a first-year councilman, said he filed the complaint to help “ensure transparency in the city administration” in the future.
The task force met May 15 for the first time and did so behind closed doors even after a spokesperson for the Indiana Public Access Counselor’s office warned that they had failed to provide proper public notice.
Moore announced the meeting two days prior to the meeting, but declined to provide a time or location.
The task force was selected and assembled by Moore in hopes of seeing the broad-based group come up with a solution to the commercial compact sewer dispute.
The public access counselor, offering an informal opinion last week, said the meetings of the task force need to be open to the public.
Dickerson said he doesn’t believe secret meetings connected to local government instill confidence in the public.
Dickerson and two other Republican council members on Monday sharply criticized the task force for operating behind closed doors.
Arvis Dawson, Moore’s assistant, though, defended last week’s private meeting. Based on advice from the city’s legal department, he suggested the task force is not in violation of state law.
Dawson said the initial report to the public access office was based on “reports,” while the assessment by the administration was based on “facts.”
State law, in defining circumstances that fall under the Open Door Law and require public notice, include “any advisory commission, committee or board created by statue, ordinance or executive order to advise the governing body of a public agency, except medical staffs or committees of any such staffs.”
Some Republicans and business owners have questioned the role of the task force from the outset, saying it has circumvented the council’s role.
Two people familiar with the task force said the group was expected to meet again Wednesday, May 22, but a time and location were not disclosed.
In addition to advocating for the task force to meet privately, Moore has also declined to identify members of the task force.
The task force includes representatives of the city, Elkhart County, a state lawmaker and business owners from inside and outside of the city.
Complaints filed with the state office typically result in advisory opinions issued within days or weeks. The office will seek information from both sides of the issue before announcing an opinion.
The office does not have any enforcement powers and opinions are generally intended to serve as a guide.
Civil lawsuits are sometimes filed afterward, but that happens more often when a board has violated the Open Door Law and made binding decisions during closed meetings. By filing a lawsuit, representatives of the public can have an opportunity to have decisions made in private reversed.
The Elkhart task force is not empowered to make decisions on behalf of the city since its only function is to provide a recommendation on commercial compact fees to the city council.
On Monday, city council president Ron Troyer, a Democrat, said he would attempt to schedule a special city council meeting soon to begin addressing the compact fee directly. The council had made preliminary plans to review the existing ordinance and a compromise proposal by Moore before the task force was assembled.
If the council meets in special session, it could consider revising the existing ordinance or adopting Moore’s plan.