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Reporter Dan Spalding writes about Elkhart, politics and current events for the Elkhart Truth.

Public access office has looked at four disputes involving Elkhart

Posted on June 17, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on June 17, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore's administration has had to respond to several complaints filed withe Indianan Public Access Counselor's office in recent months. Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore's administration has had to respond to several complaints filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor's office in recent months. (Truth file photo)

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore's administration has had to respond to several complaints filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor's office in recent months.

Mayor Dick Moore’s administration has been the subject of three of the inquiries. The other involved a press conference organized by Republican city council members.

In responding to the most recent complaint, Moore said last week he views the complaints to be a waste of taxpayer money as city employees expend time and energy responding to the allegations.

While he and the Democrats might find the investigations aggravating, they’ve fared well in the first three 'complaints.'

Statewide, the public access counselor’s office looked into nearly 1,580 inquires during a recent 12-month period. It is not uncommon for a city, town, county or state agency to be the subject of multiple complaints. To learn more about the office, click here.

The following are summaries of the four recent investigations.

News conference

A group of city council members led by Republicans were accused of an illegal meeting as they attempted to conduct a news conference Sept. 14, 2012.

Accusation: Failure to properly advertise after four Republicans and one Democrat met in council chambers to offer budget cutting ideas. The give people constituted a quorum. The complaint was filed by Kimberly Burtsfield, an employee of Indiana State Board of Accounts.

Conclusion: The office concluded in March that the gathering was not a “blatant” violation, but did constitute a meeting that was not properly advertised.

Link: http://www.in.gov/pac/informal/files/13-INF-09.pdf

Related story: http://www.elkharttruth.com/article/20130306/NEWS01/703069948&source=RSS


Henke’s allegations

Republican councilman David Henke inquired about what he believed to be illegal meetings by city council Democrats when they met in caucus.

Accusation: Henke alleged the mayor strong arms council members into supporting his policy initiatives and as a result, the caucus was used to conduct official business. The meetings happened in early 2012 and the inquiry was filed in February of 2013.

State law stipulates that the complaint be filed within 30 days of the event or upon learning of the event for a formal inquiry to occur, but the office did provide an informal advisory, nonetheless.

Conclusion: In the office’s informal opinion, they determined the caucus meetings would not have been a violation of the Open Door Law. Numerous facts Henke conveyed were viewed as inaccurate, according to Moore, and Henke was heavily criticized by Democrat colleagues at a city council meeting after the opinion was released.

Link: http://www.in.gov/pac/informal/files/13-INF-11.pdf

Related story: Henke gets an earful from council.


Task force meetings

Moore was accused of violating the state's Open Door Law as a result of private meetings of a sewer task force that he had appointed

Accusation: Republican City Council member Brian Dickerson filed a complaint in May, suggesting the task force meetings are applicable to the Open Door Law and should be open to the public.

Conclusion: Opinion by office favored Moore, but only after his administration filed two affidavits discrediting part of a letter Moore and council president sent to utility customers in which they suggested council would receive advice from the task force.

Link: http://www.in.gov/pac/advisory/files/13-FC-146.pdf

Relate story: State offers an informal opinion after hearing a complaint.

Related story: Reaction to the final decision.


Ontwa Township

Business group seeks info concerning Ontwa Township sewer details. The Michigan township oversees the delivery of sewage to Elkhart from the Edwardsburg, Mich., area.

Accusation: Group says city is withholding information because it is in a legal dispute, but claims they know of no current litigation.

Conclusion: Pending. Advisory opinion expected within a few weeks

Related story: Reaction to the filing of the complaint.

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