Rec district hears concerns regarding access to public information, passes financial audit

MEEKER | After hearing concerns from the Herald Times about a resolution passed in May that will make it more difficult for the public and press to obtain access to Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District’s public records, and concerns about perceived violations of the Colorado Open Meetings Law pertaining to executive sessions, the district board attended to regular action items on their agenda.
It was the second meeting for the three new members of the board: John Strate, Rob Baughman and Dan Chinn.
The new resolution states “All requests for public records shall be made in writing on the District’s Public Records Request Form,” and the district will charge a per page and/or per hour fee. This is common practice for law enforcement and legal matters, and is generally referred to as a Colorado Open Records Act request, or CORA. The Herald Times was required to file a CORA request for the audio recording of the April meeting. According to the resolution, from now on, inspection of the electronic recording of meetings will only be allowed after a formal request and only at the district’s administrative office, as the district “does not have the technical capability to download or transmit electronic files of such recordings.”
The board agreed to review the concerns presented.
In regular business, the board approved a $200 request for support of the 2018 Plein Air art competition.
The board approved a revised 2018 fee schedule to include a $10 per hour lane usage fee to address a request from the Moffat County School District for use of the lap lanes for their swim team.
Strate said he wanted to be sure Moffat County’s use of the lap lanes wouldn’t interfere with Meeker High School programs and was assured that the district will retain “right of first refusal.” One lap lane will remain open to the public during the hours the MCHS’s swim team is using the other three lanes, which are expected to be from 4:30-6:30 p.m, two or three days per week beginning in November.
The board also approved the monthly financial reports.
In discussion, Strate stated membership income is up from what it was last year at the same time, and expenditures are down on full-time wages. “That goes back to talking about staff positions that haven’t been filled,” Strate said.
Health insurance premiums were described as “a big difference, year-to-date,” but it is was not clear whether the difference was positive or negative.
Legal services in May were “fairly typical,” Strate said, at $4,240, given the election and “other things we passed at the last meeting.”
Executive Director Sean VonRoenn explained expenditures for the summer baseball program, saying, “The district gives a donation to the Colorado River Valley Little League in lieu of us having a program. This year every kid got $50 toward their fee to participate.”
Also in the vouchers were costs for the U.S. Kids’ Golf program to the tune of approximately $4,000, based on the discussion.
“We’re trying to get the golf program going for youth,” VonRoenn said. The expenses were for equipment and a teaching kit. “We’ve donated $20,000 to the golf course for the last two years,” he added.
The board approved an additional $1,600 for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews contributed by the Bureau of Land Management to help offset the costs for the trails project. Walter, as the field manager for the BLM’s White River Field Office, recused himself from the vote.
VonRoenn updated the board on the Circle Park Pond Project, stating “There’s nothing in your packet. It’s very much in draft form or living in conversations with our attorney.”
The district has received the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing is Fun grant and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, putting them close to their funding goal. Currently, they’re working on water rights issues with their attorney.
“There’s not a lot of intense engineering on it, but it’s more than just the excavation,” VonRoenn said.
“It’s not just digging a hole and filling it with water,” Walter added.
It’s possible the board will be ready to move forward with requests for proposals following the July meeting.
The board also discussed the “performance appraisal tool” for board members to use in the evaluation of the executive director.
Department operations updates were presented to the board. VonRoenn stated, “I’m not really going to go through this. We’re continuing to improve the report to the board. That’s what you [the board members] have in front of you.”
The board also received the 2017 financial statement and independent auditor’s report from Marlo Coats of Colorado CPA, who stated, “We didn’t find anything materially wrong. What we did find was corrected, and most of that was related to getting things in compliance with state requirements.”
In “other business,” board member Chinn discussed the need for civility and respect from and among the board. Chinn said he and Strate were approached after the pre-election forum by a longtime resident who “felt like he was treated rudely” by the board.
“How often do we have people come in here? Why not let people talk, not cut them off, let them finish their thoughts, and then what would be wrong with saying to the people ‘when we made that decision, this is what I was thinking at the time and why I voted on it.’ I think people respect that,” Chinn said.
Strate expressed his concern—and experience—with public comment sessions gone awry, where individuals repeat one another or ramble on, needlessly extending the length of meetings.
“People should come prepared,” Walter said. “But there’s nothing that precludes the board from asking questions. It’s not a process for people to come in and grill the board. Part of that is we should be more intentional when we make a decision that could be controversial, maybe we should present more information, A good example is the trails project, we really should have talked more about what we were doing.”
Walter went on to say, “I’ll still maintain please limit your conversation to five minutes, if the discussion is going well, you can ask the president for the opportunity to hear more.”
Board member Travis Mobley said, “I think we got in hot water over the trail bids. We didn’t discuss that as well as we should have.”
“We did, but it wasn’t publicly done, and that was the issue. We could have communicated that better,” Walter said. He also added that if board members want to discuss an item, the time to do that is after the item has been moved and seconded for approval.
“We owe it to the taxpayers to let them know that they’re welcome here,” Strate said.
“If we do a good job when we make our decisions publicly, we should minimize that concern,” Walter said. “It should show up in the minutes. And we should be able to give follow-up on that after thoughtful consideration.”
The Herald Times will file the now-required formal request for the minutes.

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