The Open Door Law allows the public access to most meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies.
If the majority of a governing body gathers to take official action on agency business, it is considered a meeting. The public must be notified two business days in advance.
The plaintiffs in the recent suit were a group of private citizens who claimed in their complaint that SBOE members violated this law by collectively authorizing an email to Indiana legislators regarding Indiana’s A to F grading system, according to a release from the SBOE.
The plaintiffs claimed the SBOE, excluding state superintendent Glenda Ritz, met and took official action without giving public notice when they drafted the email and all authorized their signature on the final draft. The plaintiffs wanted Marion Superior Court to void action resulting from this decision, according to the settlement agreement.
The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. In exchange, the SBOE reimbursed their court fees, a settlement of more than $15,000.
The settlement agreement does not include any admission of fault or improper conduct on the part of the SBOE.
The plaintiffs also agreed not to request documents or any changes related to their original complaint in the settlement.
The recent lawsuit followed a civil complaint filed by Ritz in October in Marion Circuit Court.
Ritz’s suit was struck down at the request of Attorney General Greg Zoeller, on the grounds that Ritz is a state official and cannot sue a state agency. According to Zoeller’s motion, Ritz did not have the authority to hire private council.
Private citizens Ed Eiler, Anthony Lux, Catherine Fuentes-Rohwer and Julie Hollingsworth filed their complaint Dec. 4, less than two months after Zoeller filed his Oct. 24 motion striking down Ritz’s ?complaint.
SBOE member Gordon Hendry issued a statement after the settlement, calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and a “waste of time and energy.”
“That being said, I’ve long been an advocate for improving our access laws and making sure they are evolving in step with technology,” he said. “I’d welcome a conversation with the Department of Education, the governor, the attorney general and the General Assembly about ways lawmakers can improve transparency in government so Hoosiers can see how their tax dollars are being spent.”