INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - By one stroke this year, Indiana lawmakers and the new
governor vastly improved the public’s ability to find out how the show is
run here at the Statehouse, while in another, top managers at the Indiana
Department of Transportation quietly clamped down on what’s available.
Gov. Mike Pence and a bipartisan group of lawmakers reversed years of
closed-mouth refusals from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to show
how and where taxpayer money was spent on job-creation and economic
development. Pence touted the measure at a May bill signing, saying it would
“ensure public confidence in our economic development efforts.”
But officials at INDOT went the opposite direction, telling public employees
to stop putting their opinions in public documents, shortly after The
Indianapolis Star used those documents to unearth accusations of favoritism
on a project benefiting INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff’s family.
Woodruff directed INDOT employees to spend $770,000 re-making a connection
to I-69 benefiting his family’s farmland along the new highway.
A highway supervisor dubbed it the “Troy Woodruff Re-Do", according to The
Star. But INDOT’s new rules would bar statements like that.
“All information that is necessary for complete documentation of project
construction should be reported factually without the addition of personal
opinions, editorial comments, or criticism of individuals, companies or
INDOT,” officials wrote in a memo to state workers.
INDOT also ordered employees to stop replying to emails in chains, creating
long strings of information that could potentially unearth more information
via public records requests.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the new policy would protect the state
from lawsuits and civil claims that rely on statements made in public
documents. “There’s a lot more at stake there,” he said. He added he did not
know whether the new orders were drafted in response to the Star’s Woodruff
Gerry Lanosga, president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, said
he was “offended at the idea that officials are asking public employees to
self-censor what they put in routine logs like the ones at issue here.”
“Employees shouldn’t feel pressure not to be forthcoming about their
professional evaluations in such documents, but asking them to keep their
personal opinions out will almost certainly cause them to hesitate in
offering qualitative judgments regarding programs and projects that could be
very valuable to the public,” he said.
Lanosga compiled a 2012 report for the Center for Public Integrity giving
Indiana an F for public access, detailing broad exemptions in the state law
that allow public officials to withhold information. Lanosga, a former
investigative reporter, pointed out that the public is often granted access
to its governments in starts and stops. One measure, like the new IEDC
rules, open the door to the public, while another, like INDOT’s, closes it.
For years, IEDC would tout plans by companies to create new jobs in Indiana,
but would not say exactly how many were created. Leaders under former Gov.
Mitch Daniels refused to provide that information, with the admonition that
showing how many jobs were created could spook other businesses looking at
But Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, led the charge earlier this year to require
IEDC deliver more information about how many jobs companies it wooed to the
state actually created. Pence backed the measure and also created a new
online portal, making it easier to review IEDC information.
The INDOT policy might be a step backward, but the long push for IEDC
transparency was a clear step forward.