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What is wrong with a letter being written by Archuleta County to the Town of Pagosa Springs concerning sales tax?
The problem is with the process.
Two commissioners saw the letter before it was sent. One said he gave approval. Another said he reviewed it. The third commissioner claims a meeting was held that wasn’t noticed and that the other commissioners gave input to the letter.
There was no public notice. There was no open discussion. There was no public process.
It’s only a letter, so what’s the big deal?
The issue is that if this one letter was handled this way, what other business is being undertaken in this manner?
Does following the law matter?
If our elected officials can choose when they want to obey the law, can we as private citizens do the same thing?
Elected officials cannot lay the groundwork for policy, positions and regulations out of public view.
Private communication concerning policy, decisions and informal discussions held behind closed doors lead to doubt and distrust.
Why should we care about open meetings in government?
First and foremost, because it is the law.
It is legislative policy that formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret, but only in properly noticed meetings.
What is a meeting?
According to the Open Meetings (“Sunshine”) Law, a meeting is defined as, “any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication.”
For local public bodies, that means all meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken are open.
Public notice is to be given prior to all meetings where the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum is expected to be in attendance. Notice must be “full and timely.”
Public bodies may comply with “full and timely” by posting a notice in a formally designated public place at least 24 hours before a meeting. Posted notices must include a specific agenda if at all possible.
Minutes are to be taken of all meetings and “promptly recorded.”
There are boundaries established by Colorado law. These are boundaries that elected officials agree to abide by when they serve in office. This includes the Sunshine Law that says all meetings of a quorum of a local public body at which public business — such as a letter written to the town on the county’s behalf — is to be discussed and will be open to the public.
The reasoning behind the law is simple — the public has a right to know what is being said.
We expect local government to give more credence to public process.
Terri Lynn Oldham House