Monroe County looking to rectify CVC’s violation of Open Door Law with meeting reenactment, possible new guidelines

Monroe County’s five-member convention and visitors commission (CVC) met on Wednesday Dec. 9 at noon.

The meeting was not accessible to the public as required under Indiana’s Open Door Law. That’s because the Zoom video conferencing link that was used to conduct the meeting had not been posted on Monroe County’s website, or anywhere else The Square Beacon could see.

According to Monroe County attorney Margie Rice, the approach will be next week to hold a properly noticed, publicly accessible meeting of the CVC to ratify the actions taken at the Wednesday meeting, as well as four other meetings held earlier this year.

The tentative date for the meeting to re-enact the CVC’s work for previous meetings is Dec. 18.

The purpose of the CVC as a public body under state statute is to promote the development and growth of the convention and visitor industry in the county using funds generated by the county’s 5-percent innkeeper’s tax.

Rice told The Square Beacon that when she reviewed the situation arising out of the Dec. 9 meeting, she concluded that four other CVC meetings held earlier this year, after the  COVID-19 pandemic hit,  had violated the Open Door Law in the same way. There was no way for the public to access those meetings because the Zoom link had not been posted.

A possible problem with public access to the upcoming Dec. 9 meeting was foreshadowed at a work session held Tuesday of Thanksgiving week by the Monroe County Council.

County council president Eric Spoonmore asked at the pre-Thanksgiving work session how the public would be able to get access to the Dec. 9 CVC meeting. Talisha Coppock, who’s executive director at Downtown Bloomington Inc., said the Zoom link could be placed on the Monroe County web site.

At the work session, Spoonmore indicated support for putting the Zoom link for the upcoming Dec. 9 meeting on the Monroe County website. He continued, “This is something I think that’s a pretty significant interest right now in the community.” Spoonmore added, “So anything we can do to increase public engagement with some of these meetings, I think it would be great.”

County councilor Geoff McKim supported Spoonmore’s statement by pointing out: “They are subject to the Open Door Law.”

The Zoom link did not get added to Monroe County’s website before the Dec. 9 meeting.

On Dec. 9, after establishing that the meeting had been held, The Square Beacon emailed an objection to Rice and county councilor Kate Wiltz, who serves as the CVC’s representative on the five-member commission. The Square Beacon complained that the public did not have access to the CVC’s meeting as required under Indiana’s Open Door Law, and requested that either a recording of the Zoom meeting be provided, or that a meeting be held to re-enact the proceedings.

Rice responded by saying, “I don’t disagree with you at all, and reached out earlier today to [county attorney] Jeff Cockerill (copied here) once I became aware of the matter.”

A recording of the meetings is not available, because the CVC did not use the recording feature of Zoom, Rice told The Square Beacon. According to Rice, the meeting was conducted on a private Zoom account belonging to Mike Campbell, who’s a CVC member, and associate director of the Indiana Memorial Union.

Monroe County’s technical services department typically makes recordings of Zoom meetings held on official Monroe County Zoom accounts and turns on the auto-transcription feature.

Reached by The Square Beacon, Spoonmore called the failure to post the Zoom link an “unfortunate, sad mistake.” He added, “It’s important to get it fixed, as soon as we possibly can.”

Spoonmore added a reference to the conditions under which meeting are being held during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Everyone is in agreement that we need to put in an extra effort to make sure people know what’s going on in these uncertain times.”

Spoonmore said he is thinking about drafting a joint resolution for consideration by both the Monroe County council and the county commissioners that adopts a framework providing guidance on how virtual meetings should be handled. That includes the idea that if a meeting is conducted on Zoom, then it should be held on an official Monroe County Zoom account, and that a recording of that meeting should be made.

Spoonmore wrapped up by saying, “We need to treat the convention and visitors commission like any other board or commission.”

County attorney Margie Rice provided meeting minutes of the CVC to the BSB.

CVC meeting minutes