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Friday, June 14, 2024

Compliance with Open Meetings Laws Questioned

By Shari Phiel
Berthoud Recorder

Both the Longmont City Council’s and the Berthoud Board of Trustee’s adherence to state open meetings laws have recently come under scrutiny. Late last week the Longmont Times-Call newspaper announced it had filed suit with the 20th Judicial District court against the Longmont City Council, claiming the government body violated Colorado’s open meetings laws in June.

The Times-Call, under its parent company Lehman Communications, alleged the Longmont City Council violated the open meetings law “by adopting a position on a legal matter during a closed-door session June 23.” A previous request by the newspaper to review a tape of the executive session hearing was denied by the city.

According to the report, city council members met during the closed-door meeting before its regular session meeting after a Weld County District judge issue a ruling against Longmont in its long-standing suit against the town of Firestone. The Longmont newspaper states that after exiting the executive session meeting, Mayor Roger Lange stated the city council     believed it was in the city’s best interest to appeal the ruling.

Then on July 29, City Councilwoman Mary Blue told reporter Rachel Carter, who covers city council meetings for the newspaper, that the city council does not take a binding vote, something similar to a straw-poll is taken to determine if there is a consensus among the council members on a particular issue.

The newspaper argues these two statements taken together indicate the city council adopted a position during the executive session that violates state statute. Under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, state public bodies cannot adopt “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action” during an executive session meeting that is not open to the public.
Locally, the Berthoud Board of Trustees’ compliance with state statutes regarding executive session meetings has been called into question by the Berthoud Recorder.

On the July 21 agenda for the Berthoud Board of Trustees special meeting and study session to begin at 7 p.m., one of the agenda items listed was for an executive session meeting with no other details provided.

Under COML, “full and timely notice to the public” must be provided prior to “any meetings at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum of the body is in attendance, or is expected to be in attendance.” The public notice is also required to include specific agenda information where possible.” Legal counsel provided to the Recorder by the Colorado Press Association confirmed the meeting notice failed to meet the requirements of state statute.

State open meetings laws also require the minutes of any meeting held by a local public body during which an executive session was held, “shall reflect the topic of the discussion at the executive session.” A review of the meeting minutes from the July 21 meeting posted at the Town of Berthoud Web site (www.Berthoud.org) showed only that an executive session meeting occurred.

On July 31, a letter was sent via e-mail on behalf of the Berthoud Recorder requesting Town staff respond to these issues. Per Town Clerk Mary Cowdin, the information is being currently reviewed by Town Attorney R. Bruce Fickel.

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