In recent months, we have urged members of Greene County to step up and do their part to ensure their tax dollars are being well spent.
An eastern Greene County man took those words seriously and has been attending Greene County Commissioners meetings and asking a lot of questions to better understand how the county is running.
Ronald Toon is retired and after Garmong was hired as the construction manager for the proposed Greene County Jail expansion project, decided to use his time to do some research and present concerning data to the Greene County Commissioners.
In recent weeks, Toon has called me a few times, further worried that his information is not being seen in the big picture. He stressed his time could be spent in other ways, but Toon said he is worried about his county and its future for “young people” like myself.
Toon said one of the first “red flags” which sent him into motion was the fact the commissioners did not bid out the Project Manager job because of cited previous positive experiences with the company. Based on state statute, the county is not required to go through a public bidding process. County attorney Marilyn Hartman added requests for proposal were sent out during this process.
Toon went on to add the county should have opened the bid process to more companies -- not just those proficient in jail construction. He stressed because the county is not required to follow through with the public bidding process, does not mean they should not.
Toon said as those questions came to the forefront, more questions also arose.
In order to attempt to get the answer to his questions, Toon sent a request to the county auditor to gather a trove of information. Due to the complexity of the requests, including the amount of money paid to several entities over the course of a six-year time period, the county was unable to efficiently answer the questions. The request was not made in a way which falls under the Access to Public Records Act, thus potentially creating hours-worth of research on top of the auditor’s regular duties. Hartman noted the county receives a couple similar requests a week.
Toon expressed concern the way the law is written makes it hard for the “layman” to make a request.
I reached out to Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt to get some pointers in order to help the average person make a request of information.
First of all, Britt said it is important to establish a relationship with the office or entity from whom the individual is seeking the information.
“What I see a lot of times are people are upset so they go in aggressive. Be polite and courteous,” Britt said. “Bureaucrats are people. They work for you as a taxpayer, but they are people too.”
It is also suggested to ask for a few documents at a time because this helps to reduce a potential delay due to the amount of time which would need to be dedicated to track down the records.
With information like payments to specific companies, Britt suggested requesting invoices paid to certain companies or locating a line item in the budget dedicated to paying a certain bill.
For example, information pertaining to a certain project would likely be kept together in one place.
Another request for information asked about the amount of property a company owned in the county. In order to be more specific, Britt suggested seeking out deeds owned by a certain company. Requests like this can be especially complicated if a company owns property in multiple locations across the county, Britt explained.
Britt said sometimes crafting a request in a manner in which the county employee can effectively seek out the information can be an “art.”
Britt added anyone who has questions about putting together a request for public records can contact his office at 317-233-9435. He or his employees can offer guidance on how to craft a request.