ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has uncovered members of the St. Joseph County Board of Health potentially broke Indiana Open Door Laws through emails sent to nearly every single member of the board where they discussed strategy and planned meeting talking points in what is supposed to be a public forum. RNM obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
RNM discussed the emails with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, Luke Britt, who explained the content and number of members could constitute a violation of the law, and, at the very least, “invites” a violation. The emails are enough for the PAC to send the board and its members a warning. However, he said he needs to do more research on the exact instance.
According to Indy.gov, “The Open Door Law, also known as Indiana Code 5-14-1.5-1, states that government agencies must hold official meetings of a majority of their governing body, such as council or board meetings, publicly. As a citizen, you have the right to attend and record these meetings.”
“If you’re the member of a public board, you need to be willing to be scrutinized and have a debate in a public forum as an adult.” Luke Britt, Indiana Public Access Counselor, said.
The email chain from November 2020 was started by the board’s Vice President, Dr. Jason Marker. The email was sent to board president Dr. Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, board members Emily Dean, Dr. Ilana Kirsch, John Linn, Dr. Michelle Migliore, Health Officer Dr. Robert Einterz and Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox.
In fact, it appears the one person left out of the conversation is the board attorney, which could lead some to believe the members knew the actions they were taking were illegal.
The email is regarding continued push back on mask mandates. Dr. Marker asks for everyone to contribute to points of argument “so that it is easier to defend our position…”
At the same time, Dr. Marker slams constituents who disagree with his stance on mask mandates and says that he is simply “unwilling” to debate people who question them.
“I have been unwilling to engage in debate about mask wearing in the faith that what our local, state and national public health experts is accurate and reliable.” He wrote.
Both Dr. Einterz and Dr. Beidinger-Burnett respond with their feedback. It does not appear the other members included on the email responded in the chain.
RNM reached out to every member included in the email chain asking the following questions:
You are all obviously very educated and intelligent. Are you aware of Indiana’s Open Door laws? Did you know this email was breaking the law? If you were aware of the law, did you report this violation to anyone? If so, who? If not, why?
RNM did speak with Dr. Einterz who directed all questions to the board’s attorney. RNM followed through by reaching out to the board’s attorney and is waiting for a formal response.
Punishment for violating the Open Door Laws seem to be fairly tame. According to the Public Access Counselor, “Judicial remedies available include obtaining a declaratory judgment; enjoining continued, threatened, or future violations of the ODL; or, declaring a policy, decision, or final action void.”
RNM is in the process of filing a formal complaint against the Board of Health for the violation.
You can read the entire email chain below.