A Democratic caucus meeting held between seven members of the New Albany City Council in October was illegal, council attorney Stan Robison has ruled.

He finished his report Wednesday and intended to submit it to the council before forwarding the opinion to the Floyd County Prosecutor and the Indiana Public Access Counselor.

The meeting in question occurred Oct. 10 at the Floyd County Democratic Party headquarters. Council Vice President Diane McCartin-Benedetti called the caucus, as she said it was to discuss political strategy regarding an upcoming budget vote.

Benedetti and other city officials had met with Indiana Department of Local Government Finance representatives to discuss a property tax levy appeal earlier in the week.

Benedetti explained she wanted to detail the DLGF’s reasoning for a New Albany pursuit of the appeal before word of the option spread through local media.

Benedetti contacted Robison before he left on a vacation and asked if she could hold a caucus, but Robison said it was under different circumstances.

Benedetti wanted to discuss how Democrats on the council were blaming each other and Mayor Doug England for city problems and the image this created, Robison said.

“That’s appropriate and commendable,” he said.

But Robison said he specifically requested to be at the caucus to ensure open door laws were not violated. He said he did not OK holding a private meeting to discuss a potential vote, and added he was already out of the city on vacation when Benedetti called the caucus.

Robison has interviewed the council members that were in attendance. The two absent from the caucus were Council President Dan Coffey and Republican Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede.

Zurschmiede could not attend because he’s a Republican and Coffey said he chose not to go because he believed the matter should have been discussed publicly.

City Controller Kay Garry and City Attorney Shane Gibson were also at the caucus.

Through his investigation, Robison said he’s been unable to confirm “with 100 percent certainty” that a vote was taken at the caucus.

But Robison has concluded conversation strayed to budget talk and implications of the DLGF findings, which he has deemed as a violation of state statute.

“Those are issues that are only appropriate for an open public meeting,” Robison said.

Benedetti has defended the caucus and said last week she still feels the meeting was not illegal.

“I hated the perception it gave to the public,” she said in reference to when the matter was openly discussed by the council during a Oct. 15 meeting.

Steve Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, said party members can hold a caucus to prepare for taking official action. Key said the caucus doesn’t appear to have been illegal if what Benedetti claimed the meeting entailed is true.

“While it appears the council president and attorney didn’t feel a caucus was necessary and an argument can be made that discussion [at the caucus] could have occurred prior to the vote [Oct. 15], I can’t say that the vice president’s action or the caucus are in violation of the law,” Key said.

“The president and attorney may argue that it violates the spirit of the law in that the discussion did not occur before the public view, but the Open Door Law does allow for a political caucus.”

Key went on to say Benedetti didn’t appear to have been trying to avoid a public discussion of the tax appeal by holding the caucus.

Robison plans on letting the Floyd County Prosecutor’s office decide if any criminal laws were broken based on the council testimony, and will consult with the Indiana Public Access Counselor for a judgment on the Open Door law as it pertains to the caucus.

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