News From Terre Haute, Indiana


November 5, 2013

City’s memo delays access to documents

Caution, confusion stall even most mundane requests

TERRE HAUTE — A full-color, draft “master plan” prepared for a city department, 150 pages in length, is available online for public review. In fact, the public is encouraged to review the plan before its possible approval by a city board later this month.

But should that same document, in paper form, be made available for review by folks without Internet access or who just prefer to read a paper copy?

That question was recently put to department officials. The answer was: Check with the city’s legal department. We don’t know for sure.

The staff members weren’t being difficult. Rather, they were attempting to follow a Terre Haute legal department memo from July regarding “public records requests.”

Nor were they alone. In the past few months, other officials in different city departments have made reference to the same memo while dealing with fairly routine requests for public information.

The July 24 memo from Chou-il Lee, the city attorney, reminded city department heads of the policy for handling “requests for public records.” According to the memo, all such requests should be immediately forwarded to the city legal department.

The memo makes clear the requests should be sent immediately to the legal department because, under state law, the city must respond with a “yes” or “no” to such requests within 24 hours in many cases or else the request is considered denied. In the past, Lee said, many departments handled their own requests and failed to meet the 24-hour deadline.

“It really was implemented to make it quicker and better because we had situations in which requests weren’t being responded to at all,” Lee said. “So we wanted to get them, so we could make sure that we complied with the statute.”

Still, it seems many city officials have taken the memo to mean all document requests, even the most mundane, should be submitted to the legal department. That wasn’t the intent, Lee said.

“This isn’t for the everyday stuff” such as public meeting minutes or basic traffic accident reports, he said. “This is for the things where people are coming to look at … a public records request type situation, where [they ask] ‘We want any information the city might have surrounding’” something such as the city’s trash contract, he said.

The memo doesn’t define the sort of “public records” it applies to, and knowing where to draw the line may not be easy. The policy may need a little more explaining, Lee said.

“I don’t know that I could sit and make an exhaustive list” of the sorts of documents to which the memo refers, Lee said in a telephone interview Monday. Rather, the policy will emerge over time “on a scenario by scenario basis,” he said. “I think this is very much a living and growing procedure.”

Still, the intent of the July memo was not to impede access to public documents, he said. Instead, it was to ensure compliance with state law

“The whole purpose is for it to speed things up,” Lee said. “It really was to help with getting information out there in compliance with statute as opposed to everybody just kind of doing their own thing here and there.”

There is currently no formal training process in place regarding public records laws for city employees, Lee said.

Another point in Lee’s memo that may have caused city officials to err on the side of caution is its reference to new language in state law making a public official subject to a “civil fine” of up to $100 for a first offense if he or she willfully violates public access laws. However, to be subject to a fine, a public official would have to willfully and knowingly break the law, said Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, a newspaper trade group that has long lobbied the state legislature on public access issues and has been the driving force behind the state’s open records and open meetings laws.

“You’re going to have to work hard at putting yourself eligible for a fine,” Key said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News Poll
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Thousands at Peace Rally in Tel Aviv Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Raw: Sirens After Explosions in Israel Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest
NDN Video
Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010

Real Estate News