Our View: Interviews should be held in public

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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

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— There is perhaps no better time than election season to emphasize the importance of open government. Two local issues make the timing particularly important.

During last week's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, council President Pro-tem Cari Hermacinski urged her fellow members to conduct upcoming city manager candidate interviews in public, or open, session. Hermacinski, to her credit, reminded the council that any city manager "worth their salt" should be comfortable answering direct and difficult questions in public. We couldn't agree more.

But more significant are the legal issues involved. Colorado Open Meetings law does not provide an exemption for public bodies to conduct city manager candidate interviews in private. In fact, the law is very specific about when and under what circumstances an executive session can be held. In the case of city manager candidates, the "personnel matters" exemption does not apply because the candidate is not a current employee of the city, and the discussion doesn't involve an employee's past conduct.

Councilwoman Meg Bentley recently expressed reservations about open interviews, saying, "I don't want the executive session issue to keep us from getting the best candidates."

Council President Loui Antonucci echoed her sentiment. "I don't know if you'd ask the same questions," he said during an Aug. 21 meeting. "I don't know if you'd get the same answers. I don't want to inhibit the process."

Our elected officials should take the opposite approach. Not only should they be ready and willing to ask honest, blunt questions in public, but they should require city manager candidates be willing to do the same.

Government bodies too often are tempted to avoid the scrutiny of the public eye when discussing issues that, although difficult or uncomfortable, have no right or reason to be decided behind closed doors. The public's business almost always is best served when conducted in public.

It's a reminder the Oak Creek Town Board also should heed. In the wake of continued angst about the town's police department, Town Board members and the Oak Creek business community set up a meeting in which only two Town Board members would be present - specifically to avoid the meeting becoming public. It is concerning that the elected trustees and a group of business owners who are vocal about their frustrations with the police department chose to subvert the public process. Even if they didn't violate the letter of the law, they certainly violated its spirit - and raised questions about the legitimacy of their cause in the process.

There is no question open records and open meetings laws make it easier for newspapers such as the Steamboat Pilot & Today to do their jobs. But those laws and the premises under which they were created are equally important to the public at large. As we've said before, government officials and elected representatives work for and at the will of the public. Their documents and their meetings are our documents and our meetings.

Although it may be easier or more comfortable to conduct the public's business in private, it isn't right. That's a message always worth reminding our elected officials.

Comments

Scott Wedel 6 years, 3 months ago

The OC meeting did not subvert the purpose or intent of open meetings. The purpose of it being a closed meeting between two town board members and the business community was so that the business community could attempt to speak with one voice. Many of the business owners felt that if there was a reporter to write a story then we would have been quoted as individuals and the press' attempt at balance would have given too much importance to the opinions of a few. Frankly, the SB Today has zero credibility with the business owners of OC due to a perceived pattern of errors and bias. If the two reporters and Pburg resident had insisted upon staying then I would have left and spoken to the two board members individually at a later time. I think many others shared my opinion.

The meeting was recorded and the tape will soon be made public. Thus, nothing said at that meeting will remain confidential.

And I'm sure the police will be on the agenda yet again at the next Town Board meeting and so will be many business owners so no one is being shut out of the process.

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