Steamboat Springs City Council has violated open meetings law, attorney says
August 13, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council has violated the state’s open meetings law in recent weeks by improperly convening some executive sessions and taking what could be considered an action behind closed doors, according to an attorney who represents the Colorado Press Association.
Chris Beall, who has previously represented the Steamboat Today in cases involving the state’s sunshine laws, said the council has not been specific enough about announcing the purposes of some of its recent executive sessions before it convenes them at meetings.
The council’s decision last week made behind closed doors to direct City Attorney Tony Lettunich to start negotiating a possible separation agreement with City Manager Deb Hinsvark also may have violated the state’s open meetings law.
Beall said Wednesday that the law prohibits a public body from “adopting any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule regulation or formal action” while behind closed doors.
“If the Steamboat Springs CIty Council came to a consensus on the policy of seeking a separation agreement with the city manager, such an adoption of a proposed policy is something that may only be done in public, rather than behind closed doors during an executive session,” Beall wrote.
Council members Walter Magill and Scott Myller said earlier this week no vote was taken on a separation agreement, but council direction was given to Lettunich to start negotiating it.
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Beall said the law prevents public bodies from coming to any consensus behind closed doors even if there is no formal vote taken.
Council members had been tight-lipped about what occurred at the executive session until Monday, when an email between a city staff member and Lettunich about the negotiations was leaked by a community member outside of the city administration.
The email, which contained suggestions for recruiting a new city manager, had been forwarded by Lettunich to members of the City Council before it was leaked.
Lettunich has not responded to multiple messages and emails in recent days to discuss the executive session.
Council President Bart Kounovsky said Thursday he had no comment on the executive sessions and referred questions to Lettunich.
Beall also said the council has also not been specific enough in its announcements for the executive sessions.
At recent closed door meetings called to discuss the work performance and possible separation agreement with Hinsvark, the council has convened an executive session to discuss “personnel matters.”
The open meetings law requires councils to not only state the statutory basis for the meeting but also the “particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible without undermining the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.”
Council members did not offer the specific purpose of the meeting about Hinsvark prior to the meeting being held.
Steamboat Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman on Thursday sent a letter to the council and Lettunich expressing her concerns about the alleged violations of the open meetings law.
“We cannot allow public business to be conducted secretly, and as this community’s newspaper, we will continue to fight for openness and transparency to ensure the Colorado Open Meetings Law is upheld by our elected officials,” Schlichtman wrote.
Schlichtman’s letter to local officials comes as another city council in the state has been accused of violating open meetings laws in a similar situation.
An attorney with the Colorado Press Association informed the Grand Junction City Council last month that a meeting it held to discuss their city manager’s possible resignation and severance package was illegal because it was not cited properly.
At a subsequent special meeting a few days later, the council voted unanimously and without comment to approve a severance package for the city manager.