News and Tribune

Clark County

April 12, 2007

Jeff ethics law may be altered

The confidentiality clause in Jeffersonville’s municipal campaign finance ordinance appears to exceed what is permitted under the state’s public records laws, according to an opinion by Public Access Counselor Karen Davis.

Ethics Commission President Derek Spence said board members likely would consider Davis’ opinion as it begins recommending changes to the ordinance to the City Council.

“It’s our goal to make this ordinance rock-solid,” Spence said. “We don’t want it to conflict with any state law.

“Part of our mandate was to offer suggestions and to make the ordinance the best it can be.”

“Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem changing it if it would make it more compliant (with state law) and respected,” City Council President Keith Fetz said. “Even with this change, it would not diminish the effectiveness of the ethics ordinance or the ethics commission.”

Asked by The Evening News to review the confidentiality clause, Davis wrote, “It is my opinion that the Jeffersonville City Council may not, by ordinance, abrogate the Access to Public Records Act. From the excerpt (of the campaign finance ordinance) provided … it is my opinion that the municipal code provides that records from ethics investigations are classified as confidential by means of the municipal code. The City Council may not classify records as confidential in contravention of the Indiana Code.”

State law does provide several exclusions from public records requests, ranging from certain information relating to law enforcement agencies’ criminal investigations to information that could compromise county hospitals’ competitiveness with other health-care facilities.

The Public Access Counselor’s opinions are nonbinding, but can be helpful if a civil action is filed to correct or prevent violations of Indiana’s open-door law.

In a separate opinion, Hoosier State Press Association Attorney Steve Key said that he agrees with Davis in principle, but added that there might be instances in which the Jeffersonville Ethics Commission could justify a refusal to disclose investigative records — and perhaps even discuss findings in executive session — if the findings could ultimately affect a city employee’s job status.

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