Scott Stanford: Secret's out ... we don't like 'executive'

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Scott Stanford

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com

Members of the Steamboat Springs School Board do not like that the newspaper uses "secret" to refer to "executive" sessions.

Board member John DeVincentis made that clear at the last School Board meeting. DeVincentis has written a letter he wants mailed to all parents and staff explaining that the School Board is being unfairly maligned by the newspaper.

School Board President "Denise (Connelly) attended a Parents Information Committee meeting and the parents were angry because we're having these illegal, secret sessions," DeVincentis said at the end of the meeting. "I think as a board we need to start communicating with parents and staff more because we can't depend on anything good from the newspaper."

Later, DeVincentis addressed reporter Melinda Mawdsley, who was covering the meeting.

"Melinda, I know that every time you write 'executive' someone goes through and scratches it out and puts 'secret,'" DeVincentis said. "I know that. We can't depend on the newspaper to report honestly."

Finally, DeVincentis offered this: "Communication is very important for this board and very important especially to communicate with parents and staff. The last thing I want is to show up at a PIC meeting and we're getting ambushed because of the crap they read in the paper."

Hey, I don't want DeVincentis - or anyone else, for that matter - getting ambushed. So, let me clear up a few things.

Public boards are allowed, under Colorado law, to close their doors and meet in secret for narrowly defined reasons. The state requires the board tell the public specifically why it wants to meet in secret.

Public boards like to call these legal, closed-door meetings "executive sessions." Why? Nobody has the foggiest idea. But members of public boards really, really like the word "executive," because it sounds, well, innocuous.

I dislike the word "executive" because it sounds, well, innocuous. I don't think there is anything innocuous about a public board meeting in private.

"Secret," on the other hand, perfectly explains what is happening.

If an executive session isn't a secret session, then why can't we attend? Why can't we film it? Why can't we hear the tapes? Why can't board members tell us what was said?

Sometimes it is absolutely necessary for public boards to meet in secret. And just because the newspaper says the board met in secret session does not mean the board has done something illegal. I've got no beef with legal, properly announced secret sessions.

But sometimes, like on Jan. 8, the School Board does a poor job of telling the public why it wants to meet in secret. When that happens, state law says the meeting is illegal. That's why we're suing the School Board to get access to the tapes of that session.

Obviously, DeVincentis thinks the newspaper is full of it. I'm sure he'll say so in his letter to constituents, the same letter in which he explains why an executive session that he can't tell you anything about isn't really a secret.

Scott Stanford's From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4221 or e-mail sstanford@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

Lazy_H 7 years, 10 months ago

The fact that an executive session is held is not "secret." The content of the session, by law, can be "secret." It is unfortunate that the news media misuses it's power to make public officials appear to be doing something wrong.

A word to DeVincentis - Pick your battles carefully. Fighting with the newspaper is like fighting with a skunk. You may ultimately win the fight, but the skunk will still stink. And the news media loves to spread the stink - it sells papers!

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Scott Stanford 7 years, 10 months ago

id04sp:

Local judges refused the case because of the relationship you mentioned. The case will be heard by a retired judge from Glenwood Springs.

Second, the Pilot did not comment on judicial retention in November. Historically, the Pilot & Today has not endorsed individual candidates, including judges.

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat PIlot & Today (970) 871-4221/(970) 291-9278 editor@steamboatpilot.com

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id04sp 7 years, 10 months ago

The REALLY dumb part is that now the Pilot has to depend on what one of the local judges decides about the matter. Didn't the Pilot endorse the judges who were on the ballot in November?

Smile, Pilot. You're going to get exactly what you asked for. I'm predicting a dismissal, and that the records of the board meetings will be sealed by court order.

If you look up the name "Garrecht" on the Routt County Clerk and Recorder website you can also find that James H. Garrecht and Denise D. Connelly have owned property as joint tenants.

We've got a judge named James H. Garrecht and a member of the school board named Denise Connelly.

Like I said; good luck with that lawsuit.

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ElBorracho 7 years, 10 months ago

"It is unfortunate that the news media misuses it's power to make public officials appear to be doing something wrong."

I think the point is that, when public officials are doing things behind closed doors -- and violating the law to close those doors in the first place -- there's no way to determine whether they are doing wonderful, right things or terribly wrong things.

Why on earth, as a taxpayer or a parent, would you NOT want to know what the School Board is doing? Why would you want to condone the board members going behind closed doors illegally to make decisions or debate policy or whatever else they do?

Good for the Pilot for holding their toes to the fire. I, for one, actually would like to see public officials discuss their business in -- gasp! -- public.

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cantstandit 7 years, 10 months ago

QUOTE OF THE DAY!!!

"I think as a board we need to start communicating with parents and staff more because we can't depend on anything good from the newspaper."

I wonder if the Rocky mtn news or the Denver Post would meddle in this petty stuff?????? Most likely not because they have real news to report.

STIR IT UP SCOTT!!! Your idea of journalism has turned your paper into "trouble makers"!

SCOTT................ Hows your skeletons???????????

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id04sp 7 years, 10 months ago

Here's what the Pilot printed, Scott.

"The State Commission on Judicial Performance unanimously recommends that 14th District Chief Judge Michael O'Hara and Routt County Judge James Garrecht be retained for their positions. Both are up for retention on the Nov. 7 ballot. Commissions on Judicial Performance were created in 1988 by the Colorado General Assembly to provide voters with fair, responsible and constructive evaluations of judges and justices seeking retention."

How can you claim that the repetition of such ringing praise is not an endorsement? If you wanted to remain neutral, you could have simply stated that the names were on the ballot. You did indeed delete some factual, verifiable and TRUE opposing information just before the election, because I posted it.

You may win your case, but if you do, it will be a result of the political clout a newspaper can bring to bear.

I believe the best you can hope for is a fair and impartial hearing which you will lose, and maybe appeal, and lose again, and maybe appeal again, and lose again, and appeal yet again, and lose once and for all time.

That's what happens when you go up against a friend of a judge, so imagine how this one will go.

It will be very interesting to watch.

Maybe we can get together and compare notes when your lawsuit is decided if it doesn't go well for you.

By the way, YOU let the genie out of the bottle on this one. I think this counts as "news" any way you look at it. It will only be a surprise outcome if you WIN.

And, just for the record, I am on your side. There should not be any secrets unless disclosure of the information discussed in secret would harm the reputation of an innocent person, or at least, might harm the reputation of a person not yet convicted of a crime. Anything else should be fair game for the public to know.

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Scott Stanford 7 years, 10 months ago

id04sp:

Your quote was taken from a video news update in which The State Commission on Judicial Performance's action on retention was reported. I accept that you read into that a certain bias; I see it as simply reporting accurate information.

I misinterpreted your original statement to suggest the newspaper's Editorial Board offered a traditional editorial endorsement on judicial retention, which it did not.

I would note that in 2002, the Editorial Board did take a stand when the commission recommended that Joel Thompson not be retained. We concurred with that recommendation and endorsed Garrecht's retention.

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4221/(970) 291-9278 editor@steamboatpilot.com

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smokhaus 7 years, 10 months ago

"We can't depend on the newspaper to report honestly."

I disagree with the above quote by John DeVincentis. But as is demonstrated by the number of people commenting on this and other stories, even if the paper were not reporting honestly, there is an immediate means of letting other truths be known.

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BrainQuest 7 years, 9 months ago

"Executive" sessions are the leaders (or executives) of certain groups meeting to discuss sensitive or confidential matters (such as personnel) --use of the word "secret" has the connotation of trying to hide the truth. Statutory law permits "executive sessions," for certain matters. So SP&T, get the wording changed legally. By the way, doesn't the media use "confidential" informants--you meet in "secret" with these individuals, and when courts rule you have to divulge your sources, your reporters go to jail to protect these individuals. Another point is: why protect the identities of sexual predators when they are charged? Aren't you aiding in keeping them "secret"?

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ElBorracho 7 years, 9 months ago

Yes, executive sessions allow the leaders a group to discuss sensitive matters, such as personnel, and it's important that they have always have the ability to do so. But I think the issue here is the School Board abusing that priviledge and using "executive session" to discuss things that should be discussed in public, just because it's easier to have a frank discussion without a bunch of people sitting in the audience listening to your every word. But the law is pretty specific about what matters a board is legally allowed to go into executive session to discuss, and it seems like MANY boards (not just the SSSB) play fast and loose and claim executive session just so they can talk amongst themselves. That's not right; and it does everyone who elected those boards a disservice. The vast majority of public business and decision-making needs to happen in public -- as our laws clearly say -- so that we know what the people we elected are doing and can have a say ourselves. But even executive sessions being held totally within the letter of the law are still, by design, secret. If the executives wanted people to know what they were talking about, they'd do it in public. So what's wrong with calling a duck and duck? Executives sessions ARE secret.

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id04sp 7 years, 9 months ago

The whole issue here is one of accountability to the taxpayers. General Motors or Sony or Union Oil can keep anything secret they want, but a government body spending tax money has a fiduciary duty to keep the business out in the open.

As for the role of the commissions on judicial performance, they are 100% political bodies and publication of their recommendations constitutes a political endorsement of judges recommended for retention. Members of these boards are appointed by the governor, speaker of the house, etc., and have no inherent power to do ANYTHING except tell the public how to vote.

My personal opinion is that the Pilot will never prevail over the school board because one of the board members is a Colorado judge's wife. The Courts assigned to hear the case will just go through the motions and rule against the Pilot. It will be the same on appeal, no matter how high the appeals go.

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whyquestion 7 years, 9 months ago

what is the problem the law says you state what you are going into a legal session for and you can not vote in that session why is that so hard for these boards to understand????? the public taxpayers have a right to know ?????? are you not elected to represent the taxpaying public and not your own self interest??????Has basic civics changed to a dictatorship????? when did this occur?????

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id04sp 7 years, 9 months ago

Whyquestion,

Basic civics? Federal law means almost nothing in Colorado. The Don Nord marijuana case proves it. I've got a file folder full of other examples.

Except for an actual crime, a judge is immune from prosecution for whatever he does on the bench, even if it's malicious. They're untouchable. They do what they want. They represent their own best interest and that of their friends.

The school board thinks they can get away with keeping secrets because they KNOW that no judge in Colorado is going to rule against them as long as there is some possible way to justify the "executive" session secrecy.

Our system of government assumes that people elected and appointed to office will act in good faith. We all know that just doesn't happen. That's where the civics lesson breaks down. It's sickening, and I hope everybody in the state gets sick enough to do something about it.

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