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Public employee reprimands, disciplinary records made secret

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Public employee reprimands, disciplinary records made secret

  • Openness advocates worry that under a new law requiring secrecy for disciplinary records, officials will reprimand troublesome employees, rather than remove them, in order to keep records confidential.

May 23, 2003 — Written reprimands and disciplinary records of public officials including teachers, bus drivers, public administrators and public safety officials are no longer available in Indiana under a new law signed May 7 by Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

Under the new law, reasons for the suspension, demotion or discharge of public employees will be open but the reasons behind lesser sanctions will be secret.

The Indiana State Teachers Association pushed to get the bill passed. It feared that teachers with good records could have their reputations ruined if minor infractions were made public.

Openness advocates say they believe that the new legislation will allow government agencies to keep more information from the public.

Instead of firing, suspending or demoting someone, “agencies can now just reprimand employees and this action will keep records confidential. The concern is that [government offices] will hide the wrongdoing of their employees,” said Steve Key, general counsel to the Hoosier State Press Association.

Key said he worries that when information reaches newspapers about employees, reporters will have trouble verifying that information through agency.

“If teachers, police officers… or other public employees are doing things they shouldn’t, the people who could be affected by such misdeeds deserve to know about them and the punishment meted out. . . . The law is a bad one, and claims for privacy are bogus,” wrote the Marion, Ind., Chronicle-Tribune in a May 16 editorial.

(S.B. 169) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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