If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
That seemed to be Indiana University’s approach to the state’s Open Door Law, at least when it came to publicly approving a nearly $600,000 consulting contract awarded to outgoing President Michael McRobbie.
After months of ever-changing explanations from IU as to how its under-the-radar approval of the contract could have possibly complied with the law, Indiana’s public access counselor appropriately and firmly concluded that it didn’t.
“Despite IU’s casualness regarding high-dollar contracts, a contract extension or consulting agreement worth over $500,000 to a single employee is undoubtedly an action item that would need authorization via final action and warrant discussion in an open meeting,” Public Access Counselor Luke Britt wrote in an advisory opinion
But any obvious approval of the contract in an open meeting didn’t occur until months after the contract already had been executed—and only then because of questions initially raised by law professor Steve Sanders and followed with news coverage from IBJ and Indiana Lawyer.
The issue came to light when Sanders learned that then-IU Board Chairman Michael Mirro signed a letter in May 2021 that quietly executed the contract without it being publicly reviewed or voted on at the next trustees meeting in June.
IU’s first explanation was that the board approved the additional pay for McRobbie at its August meeting—even though IBJ’s review of a video recording of the August meeting showed the McRobbie contract was not discussed. IU spokesman Chuck Carney said the contract was approved as part of a list of administrative actions that were not verbally detailed.
Then in a letter to the public access counselor in November, IU’s then-general counsel Jackie Simmons offered a different explanation. She argued that the Open Door Law didn’t apply because the trustees had authorized Mirro to act on their behalf.
By December, the McRobbie contract was on the trustees’ monthly board meeting agenda and publicly approved. By year’s end, Simmons and IU had parted ways.
Regarding the December board vote, Carney said the action was taken “out of an abundance of caution” and that the university considers the matter closed.
We don’t. We think the university owes Hoosiers an explanation of how it will change its processes to assure transparency without a need for do-overs.
It should abide by the Open Door Law the first time.•
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