Editor’s Column: Open meetings demand open discourse

Colorado’s Sunshine Laws protect citizens’ right to know what their government is doing. For a guide, click here: https://bit.ly/2MiGXi2

Are the commissioners, returning and new, abiding by Colorado’s Open Meetings Act, aka the “Sunshine Laws”? Based on video and audio recordings, and comments from all three commissioners after Monday’s meeting, it would appear that two of our county commissioners made a decision about the future of the county attorney without including the third commissioner in the discussion. Click here for the full report.
Colorado’s open meetings law states, “… all meetings of two or more members of any state public body where any public business is discussed must be open to the public. A gathering of a quorum or three or more individuals of a local body constitutes a meeting. Emailed messages discussing pending actions constitutes meetings and are subject to the law.”
On a board of three, two members constitutes a quorum. Commissioner Woodruff has stated he was unaware of plans to dismiss Borchard’s appointment, while commissioners Rector and Moyer were in agreement both in the meeting by their votes and in comments made after the meeting, that “we” decided it’s time for a change.
So who is “we”?
Did that “we” include all three commissioners? If so, how was one of the three unaware of the decision to be made on Monday about the county attorney? Where are the records of the discussion between the commissioners? It didn’t occur in a public forum, and that’s contrary to the open meetings laws that help protect the freedoms and governmental representation we hold so dear.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been concerned about where and when the commissioners are discussing board business and making decisions, and I’m not the only person who has raised a red flag. When I first covered commissioner meetings as a reporter, every meeting involved substantial discussion, in public, on every agenda item. That was back when Joe Collins, Forrest Nelson and Ken Parsons were in office. Their discussions were quite spirited, and when you left the meeting, you knew exactly where each commissioner stood on each issue and why.
Upon returning to the role of reporter two years ago, I was flabbergasted by the tens of thousands of dollars of expenditures being pushed through on the “consent agenda,” and board meetings that only lasted 20 or 30 minutes.
Convenient? Sure. Correct? Questionable.
I appealed to the board for the consent agenda practice to be curtailed, and they complied, but there is still little to no discussion on any agenda items. The item is read, the board moves to approve, and that’s that, end of story. Questions about items have been answered with brief descriptions, but there’s no discussion among the board. This should be a point of concern.
When and where are our elected officials reviewing and discussing these decisions, if not in a public forum? It would appear that somewhere outside of a public meeting, whether by email, telephone or in person, these items have been reviewed and a course of action agreed upon. Surely each commissioner has a personal opinion on at least a few agenda items that should be shared and discussed in the official public meeting. It’s hard to believe they’re all in perfect agreement on every item. (I don’t even agree with myself with that kind of regularity. Do you?)
All of our commissioners need to have opportunity to speak up on every agenda item during noticed public meetings before decisions are made. Their voters deserve that much. Backroom political maneuvering has no place—legally or ethically—in local politics.

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To my horror, a newly-minted state representative has—on day one of the state legislature—reintroduced last year’s vetoed bill to allow counties to report just once a year on their financials, and that only by including a link to their online report, to “save money” for counties. That adds up to about $200 a month for RBC, just so you know.
For everyone who has tried to look up a government report in the last three weeks, the notion is laughable. Want to be frustrated? Trust your government to provide you with publicly accessible information online, only to get a “404 Not Found” or a “not updated during the shutdown” or just a page that hasn’t been updated in years.
Studies have proven that when communities lose their local papers, they pay for it (literally) in higher interest rates on bonds for capital projects like new schools. (Want the links to that information? Email me.)
So here we go again, asking you to contact our revolving door of state legislators and tell them, again, that letting the fox watch the henhouse is not a good idea.
Communities that lose their local paper have horror stories of government corruption, because no one knows what’s going on. Citizens deserve easily accessible, frequently updated information about where their tax dollars are going. Besides, all that information is already on the internet in Colorado, thanks to a website developed and supported by the Colorado Press Association, where public notices are uploaded by local newspapers upon publication.
What kind of games are these counties playing that they don’t want folks to see their check registers every month?

By Niki Turner | editor@ht1885.com

1 Comment

  1. It is alot more then that. Look into bronco tickets and trips on are dime.the fox is in the hen house go back a meeting ago look into the it is a joke with are money

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