The Basics of Indiana’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act

POST DATE: 4.1.16
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Elected officials should be aware of their duty to comply with Indiana’s Open Door Laws and Access Public Record Act.  Those laws are sometimes referred to as Sunshine laws, APRA, or public meeting laws.  The philosophy behind these two laws is that all people are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of their government and governmental officials and to ensure that actions of public agencies and officials are conducted and taken openly so that the public may be fully informed. Both the Open Door Law and the Access to Public Records Act are construed liberally, to permit disclosure of records. 

The first of the two laws is the Open Door Law.  It requires all meetings must be open to the public and noticed at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.  However not every “meeting” as we know it constitutes a meeting under the Open Door Law.  A meeting is a majority of all the elected members of the governing body (i.e. council, board, etc.) for the purpose of taking official action.  Official Action is defined by Indiana Code § 5-14-1.5-2(d) and includes more than simply voting on an item.  However, Official Action does not include social gatherings, traveling to meetings, orientations focused on roles and responsibilities, caucuses, on-site inspections of a project, administering oaths, collective bargaining sessions, or considering an industrial prospect. 

All meetings require at least 48 hours notice and must be published in a newspaper of record and conspicuously posted in your Town or City Hall.  While the purpose of the Open Door Law is that action be conducted openly, the Open Door Law does permit that some meetings, namely executive sessions, are conducted behind closed doors and are considered confidential.  Executive Sessions must still be noticed at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, but the public is not allowed to attend.  Executive Sessions may be held to discuss specific topics as permitted by Indiana Code § 5-14-1.5-6.1.

The second of the two laws mentioned is the Access to Public Records Act (“ARPA”).  It provides that any material that is created, received, retained, maintained, or filed by or with a public agency is a Public Record.  Any person may inspect and copy public records of any public agency; the person is not required to state a reason for the request.  However, the law does state that some documents are not public as a matter of law and other documents may be withheld.  Indiana Code § 5-14-3 contains all of the public records provisions that public agencies must keep in mind. 

A large concern when considering what constitutes a public record, emails, on a municipal account, are generally considered public record.  Keep in mind that emails sent and received via private email accounts may also be considered public records if the email concerns public business.  It is best to keep two separate email accounts, one for public business and one for private business.  It is not recommended that private and public accounts be combined.      

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