Law Tips: Public Access Counselor In The Digital Age: What, Why, How?

What is a public record? Indiana Code§ 5-14-3-2(n) provides the following definition:

“Public record” means any writing, paper, report, study, map, photograph, book, card, tape recording, or other material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency and which is generated on paper, paper substitutes, photographic media, chemically based media, magnetic or machine readable media, electronically stored data, or any other material, regardless of form or characteristics.

Addressing the numerous legal questions and complaints that continue to develop in this area is the job of Indiana’s Public Access Counselor, Luke Britt. During our CLE entitled Public Access Law In The Modern Digital Age, Mr. Britt shares information that clarifies his role in our state’s government. I am grateful that he agreed to shed more light on this important service through Law Tips.

Office of the Indiana Public Access Counselor
The Office of the Indiana Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) provides advice and assistance regarding Indiana’s public access laws, specifically the Access to Public Records Act (“APRA”) and Open Door Law (“ODL”) to members of the public, media, public officials and legislators. Governor Frank O’Bannon created the office by executive order in 1998 and the General Assembly created the office by statute in 1999. The PAC issues informal and formal opinions regarding questions and complaints about public access laws.

This office works with both state agencies as well as local agencies. Formal advisory opinions are made in response to formal complaints. Complaints are submitted when a member of the public believes there to be a violation of the APRA or ODL by a public agency. These may be submitted by mail by filing out a form found online on the website of the office and mailed to the office. These advisory opinions are the PAC’s interpretation of the APRA and the ODL Informal advisory opinions are in place to answer hypothetical questions and can be a source for training and education.

Education has become one of the more prominent priorities of this office. Through presentations in person and over the web, the PAC has been able to educate the public, media, public officials, and the legislature on both the APRA and the ODL, and include current event topics such as body cameras, text messages, public officials’ emails, and university police department crime reporting.

The public policy of the APRA states that “A fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government is that government is the servant of the people and not their master. Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. Providing persons with the information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officials and employees, whose duty it is to provide the information.” See Ind. Code § 5-14-3-1.

The PAC works to provide the public with the information they are entitled to and helps to educate public officials on balancing transparency with protecting the public’s privacy. Especially as technology reaches further into our daily lives, how these laws are interpreted becomes more important.

The public policy of the Open Door Law states that “It is the intent of this chapter that the official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, in order that the people may be fully informed.” See Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-1.

Transparency with not only public records but with how those public records are created is important. It is the public right to be able to be a part official government meetings so they may be properly informed on what actions are conducted.

Overall, it is the public’s right to be aware of what the government is doing and how it is conducting business. The intent of the PAC is to be a liaison for the public and media to public officials. The PAC serves as an advocate for governmental transparency and access

_________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you again to Luke Britt for sharing background on Indiana’s Public Access Counselor. Did you know? During the fiscal year 2014-2015 there were 4,245 inquiries received by the Public Access Counselor, 317 formal complaints filed and 24 informal complaints filed. If you have need for the advisory opinions created by the Indiana Office of the Public Access Counselor, they are posted at http://www.in.gov/pac/

If you want to see the ICLEF CLE Seminar, Public Access Law in the Modern Digital Age, check here for available Video Replays near you. The On Demand Seminar will be available soon.

_________________________________________________________________________________

About our Law Tips faculty participant:
Luke Britt, Public Access Counselor, State of Indiana. Luke was appointed by Governor Mike Pence to serve as Indiana’s Public Access Counselor in August of 2013. He previously served as an attorney and operations manager for the Indiana State Department of Health and as an attorney for the Department of Child Services after beginning his career in private practice in Johnson County, Indiana. Britt received his undergraduate degree in Journalism from Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana; a Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Indianapolis; and his law degree from the University Of Detroit Mercy School Of Law in Detroit, Michigan.

Contact Information:
Indiana Public Access Counselor, 402 W. Washington St, W470, Indianapolis, IN 46204
317.234.0906
pac@icpr.in.gov

Public Access Handbook: http://www.in.gov/pac/files/pac_handbook. pdf

Public Access Counselor Website: http://www.in.gov/pac/

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Leave a Reply