By Shari Phiel
It would appear that the Town of Berthoud is already working on addressing compliance issues for state open meetings laws and has been for some time.
One of the issues, compliance with state executive session meeting statutes, will likely be addressed by the implementation of a new form brought to Town staff several months ago said Town Attorney Bruce Fickel in an interview Wednesday.
“I gave to Jim [White] about four months ago, some forms that I wanted him to use,” said Fickel. However, the forms were not put in place at the time. “I’ve been bugging Mary [Cowdin] since he left to start using those new forms because they have a lot more information on them, and it requires a lot more formality than the board typically has done.”
According to legal counsel from the Colorado Press Association, local public bodies like the Berthoud Board of Trustees are required provide 24 hours advance notice of the subject matter or matters to be discussed during a meeting. This includes the subject matter related to executive sessions.
Under Colorado’s Open Meetings laws, notice of public meetings must be posted in a designated public area and “the posting shall include specific agenda information where possible.”
Until recently, public notice for the Board of Trustees typically included topics to be discussed during regular or study session, but did not include subjects to be discussed during executive sessions.
Fickel stated that while “they always tell the nature of that at the board meeting,” it would be beneficial to the overall community to provide as much information in advance as possible.
“There’s a fine line between disclosing too much and too little. I tend to err, and tell them to err, on the side of disclosing too much,” he added.
Fickel expects the new forms to be put in use shortly and should address any concerns about appropriate notice for executive session meetings.
“It requires them to state the specific statute that they’re using, why they’re doing it, the whole nine yards.” He went on to add, “When they start using that, what we’ll do is hopefully we’ll be able to fill that in before the meeting and then post that notice.
BERT Subcommittee Meetings Subject to COML
Another open meetings requirement recently address by the Town attorney involved the Berthoud Economic Resource Team’s subcommittee meetings.
Upon realizing meeting notices for the BERT subcommittee meetings were not being posted, Fickel advised the group, “these are committee members, they’re appointed, and because you’ve expanded the committee — they’re not staff, they’re not advisers — and because they’re part of the committee and three of them are meeting, you have to give notice of those, too.”
State open meetings laws require that “all meetings of a quorum or three or more members of any local public body, whichever is fewer, at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.” As such they fall under the notice requirement as well.
Fickel also noted the failure to comply with the open meetings requirements wasn’t intentional, “It’s one of those keyholes in the law that gets overlooked.”
Notices for the BERT committee meetings, along with notices for subcommittee meetings and meeting minutes, are available at the Town Web site at www.Berthoud.org/EconDev.php.