Our view: Council should end Harwigs gatherings

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Editorial Board, May 2008 to August 2008

  • Bryna Larsen, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Eric Morris, community representative
  • Paul Draper, community representative

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— It seems innocent enough. A group of Steamboat Springs City Council members heads from Centennial Hall across Lincoln Avenue to Harwigs for a couple rounds of drinks and idle conversation after a long Tuesday night meeting. It's certainly not the first group of City Council members to participate in such social gatherings.

But no matter how innocent their intentions, City Council members have created a dangerous perception with their regular Harwigs get-togethers. The wise decision would be to put an end to the gatherings and, therefore, an end to any questions or appearance of impropriety.

City Council members say they've been gathering at Harwigs after council meetings since November. Council President Pro-tem Cari Hermacinski says the gatherings provide an opportunity for council members to maintain healthy personal relationships and work better as a team. Council veteran and President Loui Antonucci says the gatherings are an indication of the group's camaraderie and public business is never discussed.

At least one council member disagrees. Steve Ivancie, also a council veteran, says he stopped attending the gatherings after only two appearances because he thinks they are illegal and that public business was discussed.

We'd like to give City Council the benefit of the doubt and assume its members are well aware of Colorado Open Meetings Laws. To be fair, council members were confident enough in the legitimacy of their gatherings to encourage a Pilot & Today reporter to join them and use it as the subject of a story.

City attorney Tony Lettunich said he has briefed council members on the law and told them he thinks the meetings are legal.

Provided discussion doesn't trickle over to public business, he's probably right.

According to Colorado Open Meetings Laws, a meeting of a public body (such as City Council) is defined as "any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication." Specifically, an open meeting of a local public body is a gathering of a "quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken."

The law also states, "Social gatherings and chance meetings are exempt from open meetings regulations if discussion of public business is not the central purpose."

While the council members who participate in the Harwigs gatherings insist public business isn't discussed, it's hard to believe that during near-weekly meetings, with alcohol involved, some aspect of public business won't slip into the conversation. Council members work too hard on the public's business to compromise that work and the public's trust for a few rounds of post-meeting drinks.

It's similarly not hard to imagine a scenario in which a developer, restaurant owner, Realtor or anyone else with a stake in Steamboat Springs stops by Harwigs to join council members for a beverage. The appearance of impropriety would be overwhelming.

Bottom line: Save the team-building for retreats. If two council members feel the need to get to know one another on a more personal level, go out for coffee without the rest of the group. We want our City Council to be efficient but not at the risk of jeopardizing the public trust. Put an end to the Harwigs meetings.

Comments

Nitro 6 years ago

So the next time several Council members come to a regular meeting with prepared motions or decisions, shall we just assume they do their homework alone and happen to come up with the same answers? Hmmm.

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Gadfly 6 years ago

Steve Ivancie's previous Council majority regularly conducted business out of the public eye, and it regularly pre-arranged its votes on important issues. The Harwig's sessions may be unwise, but Steve's arguments are hypocritical.

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sickofitall 6 years ago

It is a public bar.

The law also states, "Social gatherings and chance meetings are exempt from open meetings regulations if discussion of public business is not the central purpose."

There ya go pilot, back off.

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jack legrice 6 years ago

If they don't do it at the bar, It will just get done somewhere else. Look at the 700 They have already made up their minds without all the public input in yet. Without having all the problems that this will bring solved. The Iron Horse mess.

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Ed Miklus 6 years ago

Be interesting to send a copy of the photo that led the story to the state AG and see what he thinks. Regularly planned get togethers that happen after a regularly scheduled event(council meetings) aren't chance meetings.

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twostroketerror 6 years ago

Hopefully none of the pilot staff has ever gone out in public w/ another staff member, much less to a pub. They might get another side to a story (any story) that might curtail their self righteous editorializing.

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justathought 6 years ago

Hey Council, at the bottom of the meeting notice add the quote from the open meetings law "an open meeting of a local public body is a gathering of a "quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken", then add that three or more of you are gathering at (bar of your choice), and although NO public business will be discussed nor any formal action taken, the gathering has been noticed and the bar is open to the public. Will that cover it?

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Ed Miklus 6 years ago

The Pilot is on target. Elected officials who take an oath of office are obligated not only by law but by propriety to conduct themselves beyond reproach. If you can't, don't run for office.

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speakingup 6 years ago

I can't comment on Steve's previous council meeting illegally (I haven't heard anything about it, other than on these blogs), but I have heard that Cari (while on Planning Commission) went out drinking with developers during the application process. Her ethics were questioned, but she saw no problem with it. I guess we can't expect the leopard to change its spots. I'm keeping my eyes and ears open.

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arnonep 6 years ago

When Gary Wall refused to take a BAT (Blood Alcohol Test) the State perceived he had been drinking and suspended his driver's license. Using the same logic, the City Council needs to stop the informal meetings. This forum allows you all to voice your opinion. Why is it so offensive for the newspaper to do the same?

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MtnWarlock 6 years ago

sicko, Like I stated in my earlier blog, when you hold a elected board of trustee's or council position, it is best not to engage in behavior that will bring disgrace or discredit to your position! I know because, I've served on boards! Why take a chance of accusations being tossed at your office and your ethics being questioned, like they are here!

Nitro, Telephone communications by conference call, is also covered by the law. It's just hard to prove without authorized wire taps!

edski, Correct you are!

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Ilike2dv8 6 years ago

It sounds as though the behind the scenes approach is much more acceptable to some on here... Amazing, the previous council had way too many behind closed door meetings for me. I happed to appreciate the integrity. Steve... talk about calling the kettle black. PLEASE, your killing me brother.

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nofear 6 years ago

gadfly-

I venture to say that if Mr. Ivancie were so used to conducting business outside the public venue, he wouldn't be so quick to avoid the same type of meeting this time. Rather than guessing at Mr. Ivancie's actions, we can just look at the front page of the paper and verify this illegal action. If you are going to go back in time looking for questionable meetings, let's start with Ms. Connell's reign.

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armchairqb 6 years ago

So lets see....they started meeting in November (around the time Kevin Nerney's Liquor Lic was in final review) Yep....I can betcha this was discussed by everyone on City Council @ Harwigs...cause even Steve Ivancie said he stopped going after 2 visits!!!!! Thanks Steve....you're a snake just like the rest of them. Took a blog of 68 to decide it wasn't a good idea to visit @ Harwigs anymore??????How many blogs to decide you are all NOT OF GOOD MORAL CHARACTER!!!!Can't wait to see you all squirm in your seats when the questions fly at the next city council meeting. Hope all will attend. Should be a BLAST!!!!!! HA HA HA

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Dan Hill 6 years ago

Isn't the purpose of the open meetings law to ensure that the meetings at which decisions are FORMALLY taken are open?

Whatever is discussed at Harwigs (or anywhere else, or even via cell phone, email, smoke signals, or whatever) has no standing until such time as it is tabled, discussed and voted on at a formal meeting. If at that time it's obvious that the councillors have already agreed a position the opportunity is there to challenge it.

There's plenty to be unhappy about with our elected officials (even more so with the School Board) but I can guarantee the root cause is not them getting together over a beer...

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