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7/13/2017 6:34:00 PM
EDITORIAL: Lake County's private act leads to public embarrassment

Times of Northwest Indiana

There's rarely a good excuse for conducting the public's business behind closed doors.

Combine that unacceptable practice with a zoning decision that appears prohibitive to expanding modern technology, and you get an example of bad government by Lake County officials.

The Indiana public access counselor, who monitors how state and local government agencies adhere to open meeting and record laws, recently chastised Lake County officials for violating the state's Open Door Law by signing declarations behind closed doors.

Counselor Luke H. Britt warned members of the Lake County Board of Commissioners and County Council that "... binding decisions taken in secret by a governing body do nothing but erode the public's trust ..."

That rebuke followed a formal complaint filed against county government alleging they acted, without a public meeting, to be exempted from provisions of another state law.

In the spring, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law to aid in the anticipated 2020 rollout of new 5G wireless communications technology in the state.

The new tech promises to speed wireless communication up to 10 times faster than today's 4G connections.

5G communications requires more antennas in more locations to work consistently.

In general, the new state law allows telecommunications companies to install 5G antennas on existing utility poles, or to install new above-ground poles, with only limited need for local approval. The law also allows companies to install their above-ground antennas even in communities that require all new utility work to be placed underground.

Racing to beat a May 1 state deadline to continue enforcing Lake County's underground installation rules, county government attorneys drafted a resolution signed in private by two of the three county commissioners — Mike Repay and Jerry Tippy — as well as declarations signed privately by five of the seven County Council members — Ted Bilski, Christine Cid, David Hamm, Jamal Washington and Eldon Strong.

County officials and attorneys claimed they didn't learn of the May 1 deadline until it was too late to call a public meeting to deal with the matter.

But violating state open meetings laws is never the right solution.

All government officials and employees, elected or otherwise, are obligated to conduct public business in the light of day. It's a cornerstone of our democracy, ensuring important checks of government business don't fall by the wayside.

Adding to this bad decision is even more folly. It appears county officials just violated state law to pass a resolution and declarations that are widely expected to be repealed by the Legislature next year.

And the county's act ultimately makes it more difficult for cutting-edge communications technologies to establish needed infrastructure in our Region.

"We must support technology to keep our state moving forward, and this bill achieves that goal," Gov. Eric Holcomb said when signing the 5G utility bill into law earlier this year.

We agree. Lake County officials managed to oppose this progress while violating open meetings law in the process. The private act amounts to a public embarrassment.

Related Stories:
• Lake County board gives more closed-door approvals despite public access finding

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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