Re-1 board member suggests keeping more records than law requires
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – At least one elected member of the local school board thinks the board should do more than a new state law requires in regards to keeping records of its public discussions.
“Legally we don’t have to, but I think it would be great to be recording all of our meetings in the spirit of transparency, and for purposes of better communication and building trust,” board member Debbie Bruell said Wednesday during consideration of a revised policy regarding board meetings.
Colorado’s Open Meetings Law has long required local governments, including public school boards, to keep written minutes of all regular and special meetings where any votes are taken.
House Bill 09-1082, passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter earlier this year, took it a step further specifically for school boards. The law requires an audio recording of all regular and special meetings where action is taken to be kept on file for at least 90 days.
However, neither law requires minutes or an audio recording for less-formal work sessions and retreats where no votes are taken.
“I think it would be a nice gesture to the public, as a way of recognizing our public accountability,” Bruell said. “There are no secret meetings, but we do have a lot of hours of discussion that we have no record of.”
The school board occasionally schedules work sessions and retreats for the purpose of brainstorming, long-range planning and broader discussions without taking action on any particular item.
Such meetings must be publicly noticed and are open to the public. Topics of discussion are to be provided to the public, but no action may be taken.
The only exceptions are topics that fall under the provisions for private executive sessions related to personnel matters, contract negotiations, pending litigation and legal advice on certain matters. The public may not attend executive sessions. Records are usually kept, but are not made public.
Most other local governments, including municipalities, counties and special districts, also do not keep minutes or recordings of work sessions and retreats.
“I think it would be great if people could hear those discussions,” Bruell said. “Clearly, we don’t have anything to hide.”
However, Re-1 School Board President Michael Bair and other board members viewed it differently.
“Work sessions are intended to have free-flowing discussions, and sometimes we make glib comments or say something off the top of our heads that can be taken out of context and used for political gain,” Bair said.
Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said she also might not be as forthcoming with the board in such meetings if a record were being kept.
“I might not be as willing to say I have concerns about ‘x,'” she said. “I think it does inhibit the free flow of conversation.”
They also pointed out that work sessions and retreats are open for any member of the public or district employees to attend.
The board did agree to have district administrators prepare written summaries of informal discussions and make them available to the public.
Bruell, who voted against the new board meeting policy, also asked staff to look into the possibility of posting audio recordings of meetings to the district’s website.
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