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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, August 05, 2018 1:00 am

Ruling: Officials' Twitter feeds public

NIKI KELLY and BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Government officials can't block access to their professional social media feeds, Indiana's public access counselor ruled last week.

The informal opinion came after Rep. Sally Siegrist, R-West Lafayette, locked down her Twitter account.

Indiana's Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said if state government officials, including General Assembly members, are going to have social media accounts that cover state business, they must keep their accounts open to the public.

“Whether it be the media, disgruntled constituents or opposing political parties,” Britt wrote in a nonbinding opinion, “public officials should not 'pick and choose' who they serve and who they do not by allowing access to some but not others.”

He was responding to a formal complaint by radio and newspaper reporters from the Lafayette area.

The account, as of Friday, was still protected – meaning a person needs pre-approval to see her tweets.

Britt said social media isn't expressly mentioned in state law, but state officials should treat social media accounts that discuss policy of government decision-making as covered by the state open records law.

“Ostensibly, blocking a follower or user of a public official's social media account is a barrier to access,” he said.

Then again, the legislators don't believe that law applies to them – and have fought against public access in court.

Britt also clarified that it's fine for public officials to have personal social media accounts exclusively for friends and family that may be kept private.

Senate debates coming up

Candidates for a U.S. Senate seat from Indiana will debate Oct. 8 and Oct. 30, the Indiana Debate Commission announced last week.

The nonpartisan commission said the second debate will be at 7 p.m. in the Toby Theater at Newfields at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The commission on Tuesday offered 450 tickets to the public – all of them were claimed within about two hours.

The Indy Chamber and AARP-Indiana are providing financial support, and WFYI-TV is managing the broadcast production, which will be made available to media throughout the state. Broadcasters and online streaming services will include C-SPAN.

The Oct. 8 debate will be in northwest Indiana. The commission said it will soon announce the location and ticket information.

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Granger is being challenged in the Nov. 6 general election by Republican Mike Braun of Jasper and Libertarian Lucy Brenton of Indianapolis. All three will participate in both debates, the commission said.

Learn about the Constitution

The Allen County Bar Foundation is bringing back its Constitution 101 course ahead of the November midterm election.

“With high-profile midterm elections happening in November, the value of civic literacy cannot be understated,” Jim Fenton, attorney and foundation board president, said in a statement.

“This course is presented without a political agenda or ideology. Adult learners will draw their conclusions after learning about the history and structure of the federal government in an engaging format,” Fenton said.

The foundation is partnering with the League of Women Voters' Fort Wayne chapter, the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne and the Allen County Public Library for the six-week course.

Registration is $50 and includes a copy of the “We the People” textbook. The course will be taught by Robert Leming, national director of the Center for Civic Education's “We the People” programs.

Registration is available at www.allencountybar.org/allen-county-bar-foundation or by emailing acba@allencountybar.org. Space is limited to 40 participants.

Taking sides

The race between Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and Democratic challenger Courtney Tritch is attracting interest from outside northeast Indiana's 3rd Congressional District.

Tritch announced last week that the United Auto Workers has endorsed her candidacy. The UAW joins the AFL-CIO and the Network for Public Education Action as national organizations that have endorsed Tritch since she won her party's May primary election.

Meanwhile, Banks said that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., will be his featured guest at a campaign fundraising event Aug. 22 at Joseph Decuis restaurant in Roanoke.

Scalise will be the second member of the Republican leadership team to stump for Banks in recent months; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appeared in Fort Wayne at a fundraiser in May.

Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.