2017-05-17 / Opinions & Letters

APC, BZA have obligation… public means public

It seems at least some members of the Carroll County Area Plan Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals do not realize they are public officials - emphasis on PUBLIC. Both the APC and BZA are established by the Indiana Code. As such, and because of this, both groups are subject to all aspects of Indiana’s Open Door Law.

The Comet received an email from a concerned citizen over the weekend, initially distributed by Zoning Administrator Doug Wagner to all APC and BZA members. In the email Wagner refuted allegations made against him by a county resident and taxpayer in a letter to the editor in last week’s Comet. The letter writer criticized the lack of contact information for APC and BZA members on the county’s website among other things.

In his email rebuttal, Wagner advised his bosses of the duties of each group. He references a “citizen planners guide” and states, “decisions of both boards are to be passed on the comprehensive plan guidance and current zoning ordinance, not on public opinion or exparte communication among other factors…”

Upon further research, the following disclaimer was found on the front page of that guide: “The information contained in these booklets are intended for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice.”

A “reply to all” response email was then sent by a BZA member. She stated she learned it is permissible to “politely contact members of the APC with viewpoints on any issue.” She said she also learned of restrictions about contacting BZA members.

She further advises Wagner to “reply to the Comet at our next meeting this very answer, that contact information was removed due to derogatory emails.”

Wagner would have the APC and the BZA think they are NOT obligated to listen to the opinions of those who pay county taxes, which is where he and the BZA and APC members get their salaries.

The role of a newspaper is to serve the governed, not the government. And that’s what we do. We stand firm in the belief the public has a right to know what public officials are doing - both good and bad, including your APC and BZA members.

Let’s be fair...not every member of these groups is a bad actor. A handful of them understand they are public officials and exactly what that means to the fullest extent of the Indiana Code.

Public officials (servants) are fair game for questions. There is a reason they are required to hold PUBLIC meetings. And there is a reason their emails are not confidential.

Each member has a responsibility to represent the ELECTED group that appointed them to their post. They are responsible to have read, and understand, the zoning ordinances for the county and the City of Delphi as well as the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. As public officials, they are also obligated to be responsive to the citizens and taxpayers of Carroll County.

An adopted ordinance is a local law and all APC and BZA members are bound to uphold the law. The Open Door Law basically states, in part, all communications between a majority of the members to or from an outside source, is a matter of public record. This includes memos, letters, emails and even telephone records. All the public has to do to obtain any of these forms of communication is to simply ask for them. It is well within the law for any of that information to be shared by anyone with anyone.

Return to top