Cordry-Sweetwater Conservancy District
8377 Cordry Drive Nineveh, Indiana 46164-9679 Telephone: 317-933-2893 Fax: 317-933-3628
November 8, 2013
A meeting was held in the Brown County Office Building on October 16, 2013 between CSCD representatives and county officials. There are significant misconceptions circulating about that meeting, which we’d like to correct to avoid confusion, misunderstanding and mistrust.
The meeting was precipitated by a puzzling letter dated September 11, 2013 from the Brown County Board of Commissioners’ attorney to the CSCD’s attorney. The letter stated that the conservancy district was issuing building permits without having the authority to do so, and that the commissioners could pursue legal action against the CSCD if the alleged improper activity continued. The county’s letter came as a surprise, since the county commissioners had not previously indicated concern about the matters addressed in the letter, through the mail or otherwise.
In response to the letter, the CSCD requested a meeting with county officials to clear up misunderstandings about CSCD permitting activities. Because a threat of possible legal action was involved, the meeting was to be only between key representatives of the CSCD and the county. Contrary to some statements that have been made, the meeting was not an “executive session”, as this term is defined under Indiana’s Open Door Law. There was no attempt to circumvent the intent of that law. No one from the CSCD ever declared the meeting to be an executive session. Nothing about the meeting required advance public notice. The circumstances simply did not constitute the type of meeting that would require it to be open to the public. In fact, at the CSCD board of directors’ meeting on October 15, 2013, Chairman Kolar responded to a question about the meeting, which was to be held the next day, indicating that it was to involve only designated representatives from the CSCD and the county and was not to be a public meeting.
Those involved in the October 16, 2013 meeting were:
John Kennard, County Board of Commissioners
Dr. Michael Thompson, County Administrator
David Woods, County Planning Commission Director
Christopher Jeter, Attorney for County Commissioners
Larry Kolar, CSCD Board of Directors
Fritz Gantner, CSCD Board of Directors
Rod Blasdel, CSCD Conservancy Manager
Roger Young, Attorney for CSCD
In the context of the Open Door Law a “meeting” means a gathering of a majority of the governing body of a public agency for the purpose of taking official action upon business. [I.C. § 5-14-1.5-2(c).] Since there was neither a majority of the county commissioners nor the CSCD board members present, it was not a public meeting and no “official action” was taken by either CSCD or the Brown County Board of Commissioners.
When the four CSCD representatives arrived at the courthouse and discovered that a large number of people had been invited without the CSCD’s knowledge, they expressed their concern about possible inability to discuss and resolve the legal concerns in a public setting. At that time, Mr. Kennard informed the public attendees that they were not to be involved in the meeting.
It is truly unfortunate that the meeting may have been misrepresented to the people who took time out of their busy lives to attend, but the CSCD representatives were never told that the meeting was open to anyone other than those listed above. Because of the potentially sensitive nature of the meeting – since the county had threatened to sue the conservancy district – it was important for the participants to be able to meet in a more private setting in which potentially contentious legal matters could be discreetly discussed.
One of the items raised in the meeting was a document produced largely by Fritz Gantner – a first draft attempt to consolidate all of the CSCD’s existing rules and make logical suggested revisions where appropriate. Mr. Gantner had volunteered his time to evaluate the existing rules and attempt to create a rough draft revision package suitable for review and discussion. The fact that he had offered to create a draft document was addressed publicly on several occasions over the past two or more years, so there was never any attempt to hide Mr. Gantner’s undertaking. Unfortunately, the document’s existence and the CSCD board’s intent have been seriously misunderstood. There is an apparent belief that Mr. Gantner has unilaterally attempted to transform the rules into something altogether new and different, which is untrue and was never intended. The document he generated is simply a compilation of existing rules with his suggestions about possible revisions for consideration. It was always the CSCD board of directors’ intention to use that document simply as a starting point for discussion, with public involvement in the revision process being essential to any consideration of proposals for permanent changes.
Updating the CSCD’s building rules is not new. Since the original rules were adopted in 1972, the rules have been amended several times. The original rules, the subsequent amendments and the current updating effort are based on the fact that the CSCD has the authority to issue and enforce reasonable rules:
1. pursuant to express and implied authority granted the CSCD under the Conservancy District Act;
2. pursuant to the authority granted the CSCD in accordance with the real estate covenants, both as an owner of land within the CSCD and in furtherance of CSCD’s responsibilities as “lake management”;
3. and with respect to lake structures, pursuant to the rights of the CSCD as the owner of the lakes and lake bottoms under real estate law.
Ever since the effort to update the rules began several years ago, it has been made clear that lot owners would be given the opportunity to participate in the amendment process. At a recent CSCD board meeting, Chairman Kolar reiterated that there would be public meetings in which lot owners could be involved. Regardless of what anyone may be led to believe to the contrary by unofficial sources, lot owners will be given the opportunity to publicly and fully express their views about any proposed rule changes before they are considered for adoption.
Because there have been public comments made about the possible relevance of a court case, Klosinski v. Cordry Sweetwater Conservancy District, to the CSCD’s permitting authority, it should be pointed out that the Brown Circuit Court findings were not conclusive because they were overridden by the Indiana appellate court.
The CSCD board of directors wants to make sure that it does not overstep its legal authority with respect to issuance of permits for construction actions by lot owners, and that was the focus of the October 16, 2013 meeting.
Protection of Cordry and Sweetwater lakes is one of the CSCD’s principal emphases; without the lakes, there likely would have never been a conservancy district. Therefore, regulation of any actions that affect the lakes, i.e., “beneficial water management”, is a substantial concern.
It is the desire of the CSCD board of directors to optimize the permitting process by clarifying when permits are required, and from which government entity, so that misunderstandings and disagreement can be eliminated.
We hope this information helps explain the CSCD board of directors’ positions and actions related to regulation of activities that might impact the lakes and related resources such as the roads and water distribution system, all of which form a part of the District’s works of improvement. The board will continue to work with county officials to eliminate potential misunderstandings between the two entities, to assure agreement on one another’s legal responsibilities, to foster good ongoing relations and to streamline permitting processes.
Cordry Sweetwater Conservancy District Board of Directors