After reading several editorials about the Pilot & Today's lawsuit against the Steamboat Springs School Board, I feel compelled to clarify the facts.
The current School Board, as well as the previous board, makes/made every effort to comply with the Sunshine Law. We do feel we have an obligation to do our business in public.
The efforts of the Pilot to add more information to the motions were neither "ignored" nor "rebuffed." The motion in question was reworded, and the phrase "involving access to information" was added to the personnel matter announcement for executive session. The Pilot refers to the Jan. 6, 2007, meeting as "the illegal meeting." Three of the four judges reviewing the transcripts found the content of the meeting legal. The motion to go into executive session, made by Pat Gleason, was found to be deficient by two of the four judges because the name of the superintendent was not included.
The previous board also has been accused of not trying to settle this case. This simply is not true. After the case initially was decided in favor of the district, and the motion made by the Pilot to reconsider the verdict was denied, an e-mail explored the possibility of ending the issue by turning over the tape of the executive session. The reply from the Pilot was that this "would not be sufficient." It was stated this past week that the Pilot was willing to stop further litigation against the school district if $13,000 of legal fees were paid. The actual proposal also included three more points, one of which we contend would have put the district under future legal liability. It would have been irresponsible on our part to agree to these extra settlement conditions. Even without the extra conditions, I'm sure the taxpayers would have balked at paying the Pilot's legal fees after the District Court had decided in favor of the district.
In the past month, the board decided to settle the lawsuit as opposed to continuing on to the Colorado Supreme Court. When the Colorado Appeals Court made its decision, it issued an unpublished opinion. The "unpublished" status means the court does not consider the decision important as far as clarifying or adding to existing law, and it will not used as precedent in future litigation. The Supreme Court accepts a small percentage of cases each year, and it would be very unlikely that an unpublished case would be chosen for consideration.
What this whole situation comes down to is that City Council and the School Board, consisting of community volunteers, now pay their attorneys to scrutinize their executive session agendas. Executive sessions are components of government bodies that are neither "secret" nor "illegal" and are fully allowed and, at times, required by state statute. The district now will pay $50,000 to the legal team representing the Pilot and the Colorado Press Association, who took the case on a contingency basis, and our own legal fees of $40,000.
Was this really in the best interest of the community and our students? I guess it depends on your point of view. The sad aspect of this case is that in these tough economic times $90,000 can buy a lot of journalistic principle - or 3,000 textbooks, or 90 computers, or two teachers' salaries. It's high time to put personal agendas aside and concentrate on what's best for our community and students. Our community and students deserve that.
I sincerely hope the school district and the Pilot can have a better working relationship in the future.
Steamboat Springs School Board