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PAWSD business must not be conducted in secret

SUN staff filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request with Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) this week following receipt of two emails substantiating that the district’s board of directors held discussions constituting a meeting via email, in violation of the Sunshine Law.

On April 26, 2013, Renee Lewis emailed the board of directors with the 2013 Rate Study updates, “… that Fernando Aranda promised during our last work session.” Lewis acted within the scope of her position and was not out of compliance with the law in sending the documentation to the board.

On April 29, 2013, director Alan Bunch responded to that email saying,“I vote for Option 4 in the .4% growth scenario but it might be nice to see that 2014 bump spread into 2015 as well.” Bunch’s email “vote” was sent to the entire PAWSD board of directors and three employees.

Bunch’s email was in violation of the state Sunshine Law.

The definition of a meeting as described in that law is, “any kind of gathering, convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or by other means of communication.” The law also states, “All meetings of a quorum or three or more members of any local public body, whichever is fewer, at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the pubic at all times.”

The scope of The SUN’s CORA request included three months of email correspondence concerning the 2013 Rate Study Updates dating from April 2013 through June 2013, along with any other documented correspondence.

Those emails forwarded to staff clearly indicate that PAWSD has been in violation of the Sunshine Law through email communications of their board of directors.

The declared policy behind the Sunshine Law is that “the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.”

This brings one to wonder, what other business has this board conducted secretly, out of the eyes of the public, that we have yet to learn about?

PAWSD Director Glenn Walsh forwarded email correspondence to SUN staff this week saying, “When both Director Church and I refused to take part in the online ratification of Director Bunch’s rate hike preference he was quite angry. Had staff calling us to get our agreement. Tried to dress us down at the next public meeting for being unresponsive to these attempts to push this increase outside of a public meeting.”

Not only is PAWSD in violation of the law by holding meetings via email, but having staff call to “get our agreement” is another example of unlawful action taken to obtain a consensus of the board by polling the members outside of a public meeting.

This board’s behind-the-scenes series of private communications regarding public business must cease.

It is time for PAWSD’s board of directors to clean up their act.

Terri Lynn Oldham House

This story was posted on May 1, 2014.