FOIA Advisor

Q&A: Goin' back to Indiana

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  The Freelandville Regional Sewer Board posted the water usage of several customers as the biggest water users in town. Those of us on the list are asking to see individual water usage for the whole town. The Board has refused. Do we have a right to ask for this information?

A.  I encourage you to contact Indiana's Public Access Counselor ("PAC"), a state agency that provides *free* advice and assistance concerning Indiana's public access laws.  Having said that, I believe that you entitled to certain information that you seek, but not to all of it.

The threshold issue is whether the sewer board is a "public agency."  The Access to Public Records Act (APRA) defines a public agency very broadly to include boards, commissions, departments and offices exercising administrative, judicial or legislative power; counties, townships, cities, law enforcement agencies; school corporations; advisory commissions, committees and bodies; license branches; the lottery commission and the gaming commission.  Additionally, an entity that is maintained or supported, in whole or in part, by public funds may fall within the APRA.  See Indiana Code § 5-14-3-2.  In my opinion, the sewer board falls within this definition.  Indeed, the Public Access Counselor assumed as much in responding to the following complaint against the Luce Township Regional Sewer Board.  

The next question is whether the contents of the documents you seek are protected from disclosure or must be released.  It appears from the APRA that the answer lies somewhere in between -- that is, the sewer board may choose to release or withhold certain information at its discretion.  Specifically, the APRA grants public agencies discretion whether to release or withhold the "[p]ersonal information concerning a customer of a municipally owned utility, including the customer’s telephone number, address, and Social Security number."  Ind. Code § 5-14-3-4(b)(20).  Other information relating to a utility such as structural elements, maps, computer data systems, etc. may also be withheld.   See Ind. Code § 5-14-3-4(b)(11) and (b)(19)(k).  Any information other than the discretionary elements listed above should be available to anyone.