Keeping the public’s business public |

Keeping the public’s business public

When Glenwood Springs finally hires a new city manager, a top priority for that person should be to get up to speed, and bring City Council up to speed, on the laws requiring the public’s business to be conducted in public.

Council recently showed either ignorance or disdain for those laws with its handling of the city manager hiring process.

Council members decided to restart the city manager search process after a round of phone calls that were along the lines of what’s called a “telephone tree.” Mayor Larry Emery called each council member to learn whether a consensus existed on how to proceed on the search, and then instructed city human resource director Sebrina Hoffmeister that the search process was to begin anew.

Trouble is, state law requires “full and timely” public notice of government meetings at which adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs, or at which a majority or quorum might be in attendance. No notice was given before Friday’s round of phone calls.

A meeting involves any kind of gathering to discuss public business, not just in person but by telephone, electronic communications or other means.

Colorado courts would consider a round of phone calls such as those that occurred Friday to be the functional equivalent of a meeting, according to Tom Kelley, a Denver attorney who is an expert on open meetings law.

Emery contends that no new decisions were made Friday, and that he was just verifying the position arrived at Thursday night in a closed-door council meeting. If council indeed made a decision behind closed doors, that’s illegal, too. While closed-door meetings are permitted for reasons including city manager searches, council is required to reconvene in public before taking action.

And, as Kelley notes, if council’s position already had been established Thursday, there would have been no need for Friday’s calls.

The current City Council is relatively inexperienced. Although public meetings laws may be fairly new to some council members, they shouldn’t be to Emery. He’s been on council for more than two years, and as the one who presides over meetings, he has a particular obligation to know and comply with open-meeting laws. But no council member is excused from this responsibility, and council should consult with the city attorney and city manager as needed to avoid missteps.

To its credit, council made a point to involve the public in meeting its city manager finalists and providing feedback. Its actions Friday showed less respect for the public, and for the public process essential to democratic, representative government.

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