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Bring everything into the light

Elected officials need a reminder now and then: Public business must be conducted in public.

It is the law.

Doing business in public is not a magnanimous gesture made by those in privileged positions; doing business in the open is not a gift granted by officials.

It is the law.

Recently, our county commissioners slipped a bit, failing to remember … it is the law.

Comments made at a recent BoCC session indicated some on the board were uncomfortable with the public knowing what the commissioners are thinking, hearing their speculations, hypothetical suggestions, etc. Conclusions? Yes. The at-times-cloudy, sometimes embarrassing process leading to the conclusions? No, keep that close to the vest.

Mention was made of “horse trading”— with no recollection on the part of audience members of a public session in which the “trading” occurred. Note was made that certain matters needed to be discussed in the hallway.

Really? By at least two of three commissioners?

We quote the Colorado Open Meetings (Sunshine) Law concerning the definition of a “meeting.”

“Any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication.”

A meeting, involving a local public body? “All meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is to be discussed or formal action might be taken are open.”

If two of our county commissioners (or a quorum on other boards or councils) discuss public business, this constitutes a meeting. The meeting must be properly noticed and open.

Informal meetings in hallways? No.

Informal meetings in offices? No.

“Horse trading” outside a properly noticed meeting? No.

Discussions of public issues while traveling in autos? No.

Worried about people getting the wrong idea as you throw ideas out for consideration? If so, too bad.

If the ideas concern public business, tentative or not, the only venue in which you can legally discuss them is an open meeting. You should make clear you are submitting ideas for consideration by colleagues, that the ideas are not final. Give the public a clear notion of what and how you are thinking.

What is the problem with that? Why shouldn’t the citizens you represent, whose best interests are your charge, follow the process by which you come to final decisions?

They should; the more they know, the better. They should be privy to each element in the process leading to decisions that affect their community, their lives.

Do you want as little friction as possible during the process? If so, too bad.

You weren’t elected to do business out of view then arrive on the public stage to make motions and vote. Public business is messy business; there is little you develop that will not meet resistance. There is no way to avoid criticism and discontent. It is in the public’s best interest if everything is brought to the floor, for all to see.

We realize this is uncomfortable at times for the commissioners, and for many other local elected officials. The commissioners work daily in adjacent offices. They know each other. They have one another’s phone numbers. They see each other on a regular basis. The temptation to discuss public business outside noticed meetings is strong. But to do so is against the law.

The interim county manager this week cautioned the BoCC about the Sunshine Law and made suggestions to clean up the act. Similar notice should be served to all elected officials. Bear up and brighten up. Do all your business the right way, in the clear light of day.            Karl Isberg

This story was posted on December 6, 2012.
  • grande

    They should wear sheep herding cloths when they are in their meetings and hope for the best! If what you are getting is their best, then it must be time to clean up the sheep poop and get rid of all of them!!!