School District releases transcript from illegal meeting

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As part of its settlement agreement with the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Steamboat Springs School District on Thursday released the transcript from an illegal executive session held by a previous School Board in January 2007.

A copy of the transcript is available for download at www.steamboatpilot.com.

On March 26, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a previous School Board violated Open Meetings Law when it met behind closed doors on Jan. 8, 2007. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the then-controversial staff surveys of district administrators.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the board failed to state that the purpose of the executive session was to discuss the surveys; failed to note that the personnel matter involved then-Superintendent Donna Howell; and failed to announce that the board would confer with its attorney during the executive session.

Open Meetings Law requires that public bodies such as school boards and city councils be as specific as possible in detailing the topic of an executive session. Similarly, the law makes clear the limited number of topics that can be discussed in secret.

In addition to releasing the transcript from the meeting, the School Board agreed to pay $50,000 toward the newspaper's legal fees.

"Our hope is that the release of the meeting transcript brings a close to this unfortunate chapter," Pilot & Today Publisher Suzanne Schlicht said. "What's in the transcript is incidental to the fact that public bodies cannot convene in executive session unless they meet the letter of the law, and the public should expect nothing less.

"We're pleased the current School Board has thus far shown a commitment to openness and transparency, and we expect all other local government bodies to do the same."

Comments

Rob Douglas 4 years, 11 months ago

From this morning's Denver Post

Secret meeting becomes board's expensive lesson: The Steamboat newspaper deserves kudos for taking the local school board to court for a questionable executive session.

http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_12432000

"Far too frequently, governments improperly invoke privacy protections and "personnel matters" when they are really just trying to avoid talking about something controversial...The Pilot reported that twice it expressed concerns to the school board that the meeting it was going to hold was illegal, but to no avail. Board members have no one to blame but themselves for this situation, and to do otherwise is disingenuous at best. Creating public policy is public business and ought to be subject to as much sunshine as possible. The Pilot deserves credit for its tenacity in upholding that basic truth."

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sickofitall 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh please, after decades of living here, the mistakes, mis-quotes and malinformation from the Pilot is no secret. Don't even get me started on the editing! Mi---- Mo---Club! People are hurt, and now children will suffer, shame on you for taking money from their education. When challeneged, the first thing the Pilot does is call "their" attorney, ever try serving one of their staff? Yeah, I thought so. What accountability does the Pilot have for any alleged wrongs? Hide behind the 1st amendment, that's about right.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 11 months ago

And that transcript shows how the school board is far more concerned about secrecy than anything else.

Did they mentions kids or education once? Not that I could find.

Besides the lease issue, their overriding concern was secrecy. And an awful lot of talking about now deciding why the surveys were done in the first place so that they could look at them, but keep them out of the public record. Changing the past to fit the needs of the present is dishonest.

Seems to me that someone could take the board member statements of how the survey was initiated to say that the surveys belong in the public record and file a public records request to see the surveys.

The idea that the surveys were initiated as of the superintendent's evaluation appears to be fabricated in this and prior discussions with their attorney. But that is the slim thread upon which their attorney said the board can see them without them becoming public records.

That there are current school board members that were members at the time of this meeting and they spent well over $100,000 (Pilot's lawyers and their own lawyers) to try to keep this secret is reprehensible.

It had nothing to do with the kids or education. It had everything to do with covering up.

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trump_suit 4 years, 11 months ago

After reading this transcript, it is hard to imagine why anyone would spend time and legal fees fighting its release. There is absolutely nothing there that is worth fighting over.

I repeat, John Q Public elected these school officials, and we have a right to know what their decisions are, and the reasons that those decisions were made. These officials find far too many reasons to discuss public business in "executive" sessions.

The business of running our schools and city should be public so that we the citizens can make informed decisions about our votes. Hiding this information from the public is wrong.

Anyone that aspires to public office should also accept the fact that their dirty laundry and internal thought processes become public once elected. If you cannot accept that burden, then do not run for office. For all of its warts and blemishes, Democracy works best when we all share in the processs. The use of "executive" sessions or privilege damages the process.

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Guinevere 4 years, 11 months ago

I guess the Pilot released this on a Saturday in hopes that no one would read it. (except a few of their pet bloggers - see above - who can't seem to get a clue or didn't really read it)

What the transcript shows is that the school board was trying to determine what was legal, what had to stay confidential, and what should be public. That's why they are conferring with the attorney, obviously. If you take the time to read this you can see that they're trying to get it right, not trying to 'get away with something.' If anything, they're taking extra care to protect the superintendent, who clearly was not cooperating with what they had asked her to do.

The Pilot is looking awfully defensive - first editor Brent Boyer's preachy, self-congratulatory column about how noble and necessary it was for them to cost the school district $90,000. Then the next day the exact same thing parroted by Rob Douglas, another Pilot columnist, who tries to make it into a Dr. D. thing.

Fortunately, a huge majority of the real people in town who have children in school know better. They're not reading or writing anything on this blog. But walk through a group of parents outside either of the schools I've been in lately and you will hear someone expressing absolute disgust with the Pilot and their bully role not just in the lawsuit but in their one-sided coverage of it.

Who on earth would anyone want to be on the school board? I wouldn't. You're volunteering to do something to help the district, you're not a lawyer so you confer with the lawyer to make sure you're doing things right. You could get sued either way, for putting the wrong things out in public, or keeping the wrong things confidential. Then you get attacked for ommitting two words which ultimately costs $90,000. Then you get slayed and blamed repeatedly by the Pilot geniuses who won't tell the whole story, omit key facts, make themselves sound like heroes, and make it sound like all you had to do was just hand over the transcript.

It's David vs. Goliath and you can't win when you're fighting someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Next we'll have to read about all the awards the Pilot gives themselves for its great investigative journalism.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh come on!

If the surveys had been ordered by the Superintendent to evaluate herself then they could have said that in public and even called their lawyer in public whom would have reaffirmed the board's right to look at the surveys in private. And the board could have moved to go to executive session.

But if the surveys were initiated by the Board then the surveys would be public records. Or if the surveys had been initiated by the Superintendent to get a sense of the employees opinions then the surveys would have been private school records.

Read the transcript. They were searching with their lawyer's advice on how they see the surveys while keeping them from becoming pubic record.

How about this direct quote from their lawyer: if we're looking for solutions, one thing would be to (a) deem it to be superintendent-initiated to take it out of the public record, (b) then it's cloaked with confidentiality and the only Donna can take a look at it and, in my opinion, the board, but (c) the board can choose not to, you know, exercise their right.

And here is one from Ms Connelly: Well, and could we say that it was part of the -- to give more definition to the climate survey that we initiated last year, but is also to be used as part of the evaluation process? Can we have it both ways?

And here, a shot of truth, from unidentified MALE: there are four board members of the five who were here last year who agree that we had directed this survey and so if the board said it was a survey for this purpose and evaluation, that would be up to the discretion of the board changing what the intent of that was.

And that led to what the concurring judge also said was improper in the secret meeting - they decided that the survey was not public record and they could look at it.

And the Pilot did not take one cent from the children, that was done by the school board by fighting the case instead of agreeing to make it public.

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