Judge: Basalt council violated open meetings laws
December 4, 2018
A judge has ruled that members of the Basalt Town Council violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law by discussing public business through email exchanges.
An order delivered Sunday by Eagle County District Judge Russell Granger said Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle's email to three other council members July 11, 2016, which regarded expansion of the town's zone district for retail marijuana, was public record under the Colorado Open Meetings Law. Likewise, Granger ruled that then-Councilman Mark Kittle's email reply is subject to the meetings law.
The judge also declared that a series of emails from Aug. 10, 2016, among Town Council members, the mayor and town employees are open to public consumption. Those emails addressed municipal bonds and ballot questions, among other issues.
"This email chain clearly involves matters of policy-making, addressed to the entire Town Council," the judge's order said.
Granger concluded his remarks saying "the Town Council for the town of Basalt violated the (Colorado Open Meetings Law) by engaging in such electronic discussions of public business absent public notice and without opportunity for the public to observe and participate in the process."
The judge, however, said two other exchanges in communications — a series of text messages between Basalt Mayor Jacque Whittsit and the town manager at the time, Mike Scanlon, from July 19 to 20, and email sent from one town councilor to another one — were not subject to the state's open meetings law.
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The ruling came after Basalt resident Ted Guy, in October 2016, filed a lawsuit against the Town Council, mayor and clerk on the grounds that they violated open meetings laws by allegedly holding private discussions, or executive sessions, between April and August of 2016 because they were not properly noticed.
In an order issued in January 2017, Granger said the council acted properly when it held executive sessions when there was attorney-client privilege and when personnel matters were discussed involving Scanlon, the former town manager. Granger did, however, rule at the time that the town could have said in its executive-session notices that the Pan and Fork site was being discussed as part of the town's property issues and negotiations.
Granger also ruled that the town made "reasonable, good-faith efforts to search, locate and produce records responsive" to Guy's request for texts that Whitsitt had exchanged with Scanlon.
Guy and Town Attorney Jeff Conklin could not be reached for comment Monday.
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