City of Warsaw to adjust decision-making process after being accused of violating Open Door Law

Mayor Joe Thallemer says the city will adjust the way it handles the need for timely decisions after a complaint that city officials were making decisions through emails.
The result, Thallemer said, will probably mean the city will be conducting more special meetings when faced with pressing deadlines to conduct business.
Two members of the public complained and took their concerns to the Indiana Public Access Counselor alleging a violation of the Indiana Open Door Law after learning members of the city Board of Works on two occasions were voting on issues through email conversations.
The complaints came after Chad Zartman and Kyle Babcock received city documents after they filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city.
They were seeking documents involving the “alley activation” project in downtown Warsaw. Zartman, on Monday, accused the city of conducting business via email prior to board of works meetings and contended it was a violation of the Indiana Open Door Law.
In one case, the Board of Works members indicated support for a grant application for the alley project via email. In another, they agreed with the cost of part of the project through a series of emails. In both cases, they voiced support that was later conveyed in board meetings conducted later.
Since decisions had already been made, Zartman calls the follow up discussions during public meetings a “charade”.
Thallemer said in both cases, the city was facing time constraints and that the city was eager to get the alley project completed so that it could be used this summer.
On  Tuesday morning, Thallemer said he did not believe the city did anything wrong, but would seek to clarify the Open Door Law with the public access counselor.
On Wednesday, Thallemer referenced the broadening of the state law that has to reflect the growing use of email in government communications.
“The broadening of the definition of public meeting to include email votes in the past several years leaves us no choice but to utilize advertised extra meetings,” Thallemer said in a statement to the Times-Union. “We respect the ruling and will comply.”
Thallemer also noted conversing through email instead of calling special meetings had saved the city money.
“The taxpayers of Warsaw have realized significant savings utilizing the verbal approval process over the past 15 years. The timely approval of grant requests and fiscal savings realized by meeting deadlines are two examples of this.”
Attempts to contact the public access counselor or Zartman were unsuccessful early Wednesday.