Steamboat Springs The Education Fund Board unanimously approved a motion Wednesday night to “voluntarily” comply with the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today’s legal counsel sent a letter June 9 to the Fund Board stating the newspaper’s position that the Fund Board is a public body and thereby is required to follow the Open Meetings Law, also called the Sunshine Law. The Fund Board’s legal counsel has told its members that the group doesn’t have to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
The motion Wednesday stemmed from a recommendation from the Steamboat Springs City Council President Cari Hermacinski that it amend its Memorandum of Understanding with the city — a contract that allows the Fund Board to allocate the city’s half-cent sales tax for education — to include the Fund Board’s compliance with the Open Meetings Law.
As part of the motion, the Fund Board will direct its legal counsel to work with the city’s attorney to amend the Memorandum of Understanding.
Fund Board President Mark Andersen said he would discuss with the newspaper whether its “voluntary” compliance with the Open Meetings Law satisfied the newspaper’s concerns.
Andersen said the Fund Board and Pilot & Today were trying to resolve the matter outside of the legal arena to avoid diverting dollars away from education. He said the Fund Board has been and would continue to be as open and transparent as possible to the public.
“We believe we need to be open in public,” Andersen said. “Do we have to? No. Do we want to? Yes.”
Pilot & Today Editor Brent Boyer said voluntary compliance isn’t good enough and that the Fund Board is obligated to obey Colorado’s Sunshine Laws.
“We believe strongly that the Education Fund Board is a public body as defined by law,” Boyer said. “As such, the Fund Board doesn’t get to choose to voluntarily comply with Open Meetings Law. The Fund Board owes it to the voters — who have on four occasions approved the half-cent sales tax for education — to acknowledge its status as a public body and comply with the law at all times.”
Asked after the meeting why the Fund Board would not fully comply with the Open Meetings Law if it wanted to be as open and transparent as possible, Andersen said it was a legal matter he couldn’t discuss.
Fund Board attorney Mike Holloran, who attended the meeting, said the Fund Board has “conceptually complied” with the Open Meetings Law since its inception after voters approved the tax in 1993. He said because the Fund Board was unlike any other organization in the state, there was no legal precedence that dictated whether it was subject to the Open Meetings Law.
Pilot & Today legal counsel Chris Beall wrote in a letter to the Fund Board that the law clearly defines a public body as encompassing “any public or private entity to which a political subdivision, or an official thereof, has delegated a governmental decision-making function.”
“In this regard,” Beall wrote, “there can be no serious dispute that the City of Steamboat Springs has delegated to the Education Fund the quintessential ‘governmental’ decision-making function of determining how to allocate sales tax revenues collected by the City.”
If the newspaper isn’t satisfied with the Fund Board’s action, Andersen said it would likely convene an executive session to discuss legal strategy at a later meeting.
Andersen said he expects the amended Memorandum of Understanding to be completed before the board’s Aug. 4 meeting.