Chesterton Tribune

Editorial: Public's business belongs in public

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Funk and Wagnalls defines “committee” as “a group of people chosen to investigate, report, or act on a matter.”

The same dictionary also defines the word “choose” as meaning “to select as most desirable; take by preference.”

Apparently, members of the Porter Town Council need to brush up on their reading comprehension skills. A committee’s not a committee within these town limits, and selecting who will be on the council’s “fact-finding group” isn’t really choosing its members at all.

Crafty politicians are well-schooled in antics with semantics, but that isn’t likely to be the motive here. So why would the Town Council resist legitimizing the very committee it created to investigate and report on probably the most controversial issue in the community—whether to renovate, sell or demolish the town hall?

Initially it was stated the committee would consist of three citizen members and they were chosen. As of Tuesday, one was booted off, another appointed and the committee apparently expanded to five members with two appointments pending and volunteers being sought.

No motion, no second, no public vote; but that doesn’t mean the council had no hand in any of it. To the contrary. Its fingerprints (or at the very least its presiding officers) are all over this committee.

Perhaps the more important issue is, why wouldn’t the council want this committee to conduct its meetings publicly? Tuesday, council President Kathryn Kozuszek said she didn’t think it was necessary but would consider the request.

The Indiana Open Door Law clearly states that official action of public agencies—and those committees to which they delegate authority—shall be conducted and taken openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, in order that the people may be fully informed. Porter’s Town Hall Committee, no matter what its name, is clearly an extension of the Town Council and therefore subject to the same open-meetings laws as any governing body.

The members of the Town Hall Committee are undoubtedly good people concerned about Porter’s future, willing to give of their time and talents to serve their community. We applaud that commitment, but their meetings shouldn’t be conducted around someone’s kitchen table.

How the Town Hall Committee receives information, deliberates and arrives at its conclusions could be unfairly rejected by some because the committee did their work behind closed doors.

Let’s face facts. These busy people are not just doing council members a favor. They’re not just satisfying their own idle curiosity. The Town Hall Committee is assembling information elected officials will rely upon in the future to make important, far-reaching decisions with potentially significant financial implications for Porter taxpayers. The committee is, in fact, going about the public’s business and should do it publicly.

So far, the Porter Town Council hasn’t been willing to concede it made a mistake and correct it. There is no shame in doing that, only in repeatedly making the same mistake. There’s still time for the council to recover from its initial stumble and put the Town Hall Committee on the solid footing it needs to begin its important work.

 

Posted 7/30/2001