(MITCHELL) - Ron Pridemore of Mitchell filed a formal complaint against Mitchell's police merit board because they refused to provide him with the minutes of an August 9, 2010 meeting involving former Mitchell Police Chief Steve Blair.
Pridemore filed a written request with the merit board asking for a copy of the minutes, according to Pridemore. Merit Board President Phil Tincher refused to give him the information. Tincher says the City of Mitchell called the meeting, not the merit board, to hear charges against Blair.
At the hearing, Blair's attorney said that since Blair had been fired by the Mitchell Board of Works and was no longer an employee of the city, he couldn't be tried by the merit board. The board adjourned the meeting shortly after it was called to order.
But Pridemore says the city hired a stenographer to generate a transcript of the meeting and he wants a copy of it.
Tincher says he has asked the city repeatedly to provide him with a copy of the meeting, but they have not given him one, so he can't give a copy to Pridemore.
Pridemore then filed a complaint with the Indiana Access Counselor. The counselor ruled that the merit commission violated the Access to Public Records Act, when it failed to provide the minutes to Pridemore.
The law says that requests for public records must be responded to within 24 hours, if it is delivered in person. The agency has seven days if it's delivered by fax or mail. Denied requests must be submitted in writing, with an explanation as to why they were denied.
Blair was fired as a police officer by the city's Board of Public Works and Safety on Aug. 28, 2010. A judge later ruled it wasn't the board's job to fire Blair, it was the job of the merit board, and that decision was upheld by the court of appeals last week.
After Blair was fired, Mitchell Police Chief Jerry Presnell wanted to bring up additional charges against the former officer and asked the merit board to convene to hear those charges.
The merit board scheduled and conducted the hearing. But Blair's attorney, Andrew Duncan, charged that Blair was no longer an employee of the city and therefore the merit board had no right to hear additional charges. The board voted not to hear the charges during the meeting and adjourned.
Tincher says that at the time of the hearing, requested by the city to hear Blair's case, the board had no funds to hire a stenographer. This was in his response to Pridemore's complaint.
The board has no budget period, Tincher says. If the merit board had called the hearing or paid the stenographer the board would have provided Pridemore with a copy of the hearing. The board does not have a copy of the meeting and therefore could not provide Pridemore with a copy.
The Public Access Counsel Ruling
According to the law, if the board does not have a copy of the minutes they are not violating the law.
But the Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage wrote, "the issue still remains whether the board should have a record of the ... meeting. Police merit commissions are required to keep a permanent record of its proceedings. ... Regardless of whether the city or board called the ... meeting, the board was the agency that actually convened.
"Therefore, the board was required to keep a permanent record of the Aug. 9, 2010, meeting and in my opinion, violated the (Access to Public Records Act) ... when it failed to do so."
Hoage also cited the board for not responding to Pridemore's request.
Tincher did reply to the Public Access Counselor, but he has not received a report on their findings as of Wednesday afternoon.
In Indiana, there is no punishment for violating the public access laws. The only recourse is to file a complaint with the Public Access Counselor, who then writes a non-binding opinion on the matter.
Pridemore said he may sue the board, but if he wins the suit, the judge can only require the record to be released, not impose a fine on the agency.
Pridemore says the merit board is corrupt and he wants it gone.
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