Executive session

Click here to listen to executive session audio. Audio starts at about 10 seconds.

Last September, the Pagosa Springs Town Council allowed parties with whom they were negotiating to join the council in an executive session.

The session was essentially a closed-door meeting about a proposed vehicle bridge across the San Juan River at 5th Street, behind the courthouse. The public was not allowed to participate in the meeting.

The official purpose of the executive session was described as “Revision to Springs Partners 10-Year Vested Right Agreement Pursuant to C.R.S. Section 24-6-402(4)(e) Determining Positions Relative to Matters that may be Subject to Negotiations, Developing Strategy for Negotiations, and Instructing Negotiators.”

Things went very wrong when the decision was made to allow parties with whom the town was negotiating to enter the executive session and negotiate, which is not allowed by Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

Earlier this month, following an in-camera review by Judge Greg Lyman, the town was ordered to release the portion of the audio recording that included negotiations with the Springs Partners.

Last Thursday, rather than appealing Lyman’s decision, council decided to release the recording.  And, when we listened to the recording, we were in agreement with the judge; there was clearly negotiating going on.

As Lyman pointed out in court documents, “The Springs Partners described their dilemma of not being able to attract investors for their proposed development if there was uncertainty about whether such a bridge would ultimately be constructed.”

We’d like to remind you that the town’s home rule charter provision requires that “improvements and the use or depletion of public resources created by a specific development or project are paid for by that particular development or project.”

There should be no doubt that the bridge is clearly an enhancement to the Springs Partners’ project and should be paid for by them, not the taxpayers.

The court documents go on to state, “While it is true that the Town Council received information which will be useful to it in refining its negotiation strategy, the conversation between the Town Council and the Springs Partners, who are contract adversaries, clearly appeared to the Court to be actual preliminary negotiations between them.”

What’s more, when you listen to the recording, you hear Mayor Don Volger push to move forward and wrap the construction of the 5th Street Bridge into a public works project along with the reconstruction of South 8th Street to “combining two critical projects into one that we can finance in this limited-time window with developers that want to move forward on a portion of it and get this thing done.”

Council insists it wasn’t pushing anything through behind closed doors; we beg to differ.

When you fast-forward to today, the South 8th Street construction is underway. Had the public not forced the discussion out of closed-door meetings and into the public’s purview, we wonder where we would be today.

There was nothing that was said behind closed doors that shouldn’t have been said to the public in an open meeting. The Pagosa Springs Town Council should stand up for open government, instead of council members pushing for their own agendas behind closed doors.

Following the judge’s order to release the recording, we have been contacted by individuals who have asked the following:

• Where is the public apology by the mayor and council for holding such an illegal session?

• Why didn’t the staff, mayor or attorney stop the conversation from crossing the line in the executive session?

• How could council kick us in the teeth by retaining the same legal counsel who advised them in entering the executive session in question?

• Shouldn’t they (council, staff, the mayor, the attorney) all resign?

Terri Lynn Oldham House

Click here to listen to executive session audio. Audio starts at about 10 seconds.

This story was posted on August 25, 2016.