A Greenwood board did not follow the law when members agreed in a private meeting last week to fire a city police officer, a state official said.
Today, the five-person appointed board will meet again in a special session to review the findings of the disciplinary case against Greenwood officer Paula Redd, vote if the written findings are acceptable, and, if approved, sign them, said Linda Meier, the board’s attorney.
That action would be the final step in terminating Redd, Greenwood city attorney Krista Taggart said. Redd still has 30 days to appeal the decision, she said.
Members of the Greenwood Police Merit Commission conducted a hearing last week to discuss internal disciplinary charges against Redd.
Members of the board were asked to consider the police chief’s request to fire Redd and the argument made by Redd’s attorney for why she should keep her job.
After hearing from both sides, the board deliberated in private for two hours. The board members then reconvened in public but did not speak or cast ballots on the decision. Instead, Meier read a statement that said that the board members had reached a unified decision that Redd should be fired.
Meier said last week the board did not make a decision in private during that meeting, but the state’s public access counselor disagreed.
Under the state Open Door Law, the board should have voted in public whether to fire Redd, Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said.
Meier said last week the board did not vote and instead reached its decision to fire Redd by carefully considering evidence discussed at the public hearing.
Since Meier read a written copy of the board’s decision at an open meeting after the board deliberated, the decision to fire Redd was made in public, she said.
A vote may be taken in the meeting today if her written findings from the meeting are acceptable to the merit commission members, she said.
“They deliberated and indicated to me that was their finding. They asked me to announce it on their behalf in the public meeting,” Meier said last week.
“They made their decision in the public meeting. What happens in deliberations is completely confidential, and I cannot discuss it.”
However, reaching a decision by consensus would be the same as deciding by a vote and must be done in a public meeting, Britt said. Having Meier read a statement is not the same as a vote in a public meeting, Britt said.
“They already made the decision, that’s just kind of memorializing it in a statement,” Britt said.
The board’s decision was unanimous, and the members deliberated in private as a jury does, merit commission member Al Stilley said. He referred legal questions to Meier.
Under the Open Door Law, a police merit commission is considered a governing body and any official action, such as a decision or vote, should be taken in public, Britt said.
Britt said he knew of no exception under the law for police merit commissions and that members need to make decisions in public.
The public has a right to know how each member voted in a decision, such as to fire Redd, Britt said. The vote also would be needed for minutes for the meeting, which boards are required to keep, he said.
If Redd decided to file a lawsuit claiming the board’s decision did not follow proper procedure, a court could require the board to meet again and take the vote in public.
That would allow the public to see how members voted, Britt said.
Redd’s attorney, Peter Nugent, said he and Redd had not discussed what next steps they would take.