MISHAWAKA, Ind. — The President of the Penn Harris Madison Board of School Trustees, Chris Riley, attempted to brush off an incident in which he blatantly broke Indiana Open Door laws. The legal infraction occurred at the PHM Board meeting on January 9th where Riley took it upon himself to break Indiana law in an apparent attempt to maintain his leadership position. Votes were held at the meeting regarding who would be put into leadership positions, such as President of the board. Multiple parents had signed up to speak and criticize Riley’s leadership. However, Riley went against state law and held the votes without first allowing any public comment.
In all, there were 4 parents who were signed up to speak regarding the leadership vote. All of them are well known by Riley to be critical of him. None of them were allowed to speak prior to the agenda item.
According to IC 5-14-1.5-3, “the taking of oral public comment on a topic must occur before the governing body takes final action on the topic. The governing body may set a limit on the total amount of time for receiving oral public comment on a topic.”
At the board's following meeting, which occurred on Monday of this week, board member Matt Chaffee attempted to address the issue by calling for a special meeting to hold a re-vote on board leadership and allow public comment prior to any vote. Riley claimed that the law was not broken because there wasn't technically a sitting board president and told Chaffee that he should have addressed the concerns earlier to get it put on an agenda.
Eventually, the board attorney was directed to look into the issue and to make contact with board members about what he had discovered within the next day. No contact was ever made and the issue has yet to be addressed.
"I believe it's vital, as an elected school board trustee of the PHM community, that transparency is vital." Chaffee told REAL News Michiana. "If we can't as leaders look ourselves in the mirror and admit when mistakes are made, how are we to hold others accountable? The path to a healthier tomorrow starts with a transparent and honest today."
Since the clear violation of Indiana Law, at least one parent has filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. In the complaint, the parent also points out that Chris Riley has not only been the president of the school board for years, he is also an attorney and is well aware of Indiana law. The parent also requests Riley be removed from his leadership position for the violation.
PHM has a history of breaking open door laws. In March of 2022, RNM published a story regarding a scathing report by the State of Indiana, condemning the Penn Harris Madison School Corporation for blatantly breaking public records laws after a formal complaint from a parent and a subsequent investigation by Indiana’s Public Access Counselor (PAC), who oversees the state’s public records laws.
In a 9 page report by the PAC, the state lays out the complaint, Indiana’s laws and the violations committed by PHM Schools. You can read all about that case here.
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