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“In the three-commissioner system we currently have, there is no real opportunity to ‘build’ consensus or coalition without violating open meetings laws.”
We were surprised and disappointed to read the statement above made by Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting.
Whiting’s statement was made as part of his action plan to meet his 2017 goals as printed in the annual “Goals and Accomplishments” in last week’s newspaper.
“A free self-governing people needs full information concerning the activities of its government not only to shape its views of policy and to vote intelligently in elections, but also to compel the state, the agent of the people, to act responsibly and account for its actions.” The Colorado Supreme Court made this statement more than 30 years ago. These words are as relevant today as they were then.
According the booklet “Sunshine Laws: Guide to Colorado Open Meetings & Open Records Laws,” a meeting is defined as, “Any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or by other means of communication.”
“Local public bodies must open meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action may be taken.”
In the case of the Archuleta County commissioners, a quorum is two commissioners.
This means that two of our county commissioners can’t discuss the future justice center without actually having officially posted “full and timely” notice of such meeting.
The booklet specifically cites, “County commissioners do not have to give 24-hour notice or personal notification if two or more meet to discuss ‘day-to-day oversight of property or supervision of employees.’ Hiring and firing, building a new courthouse or buying major equipment are not ‘oversight.’”
So, clearly, if a commissioner wants to throw out the idea for a different location for the new justice center, he must do so during a meeting, which is open to the public. Unless an executive session is warranted, and properly noticed, the public is entitled to know how each commissioner comments on the matter.
Why would any elected official find it hard to openly discuss an issue, pose and/or answer questions, share their positions and discuss pros and cons pertaining to an issue?
Why does Whiting believe he can only build a coalition behind closed doors? Isn’t an open public meeting just the place to present your ideas and garner support for them?
What is there to fear from discussing the county’s business for anyone interested to hear?
Do you want your county commissioners to hold secret meetings and make deals behind closed doors? Do you want the discussion of a $25 million justice center to be concealed as if it were a confidential matter? We think not.
With a project this big, everything needs to be above board. The only way to have full faith and confidence in our elected officials is to know they are working on our behalf.
When it comes to making budget decisions or setting public policy, the conversation should be held in open, public meetings.
We believe all of our local governing boards will get a lot further in building trust with their constituency by holding conversations in accordance with the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
Should anyone’s personal agenda be above the law?