A Lake Superior Court judge said the Gary schools emergency manager did not violate the Indiana Open Door Law by holding informal sessions with school board members to update them on school business.
In a ruling released June 27, Judge Bruce Parent said a 2017 school takeover law removed official authority from the school board. Parent said because the board could take not take official action on public business, it was no longer subject to the Open Door Law, which calls for all meetings of school governing bodies to be open to the public.
“The Court finally found that the General Assembly was clear that it did not intend for the Open Door Law to apply to the emergency manager or to the acting emergency manager, in this situation,” Parent wrote in his analysis of the case.
Gary attorney Clorius Lay filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of Gary resident Derrick A. Hill. He sought a declaratory judgment to halt the meetings. Lay is also a school board-appointed member of the district’s fiscal management board, which meets regularly to advise emergency manager Peggy Hinckley.
Lay said Monday he was surprised at the ruling, but had no further comment.
Hinckley and Gary school district attorney Tracy Coleman declined to comment.
Parent’s ruling mirrors the conclusion drawn previously by Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke H. Britt. Lay filed a complaint with Britt’s office in October, again on behalf of Hill.
Because the school board no longer can take official action by virtue of a state takeover law, “it is a legal impossibility that the Board would be in violation of the ODL…” wrote Britt in his opinion.
Lay disagreed, however, and filed the lawsuit. He maintained board members were forced to violate the Open Door Law by taking part in the meetings.
Coleman said, in response, even if the Open Door Law did apply, the facts alleged by Hill did not meet the elements of a violation.