Arvada resident appeals secret ballots ruling

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

The Arvada resident who sued his city for using secret ballots to fill a vacant council seat has appealed a judge’s ruling that he lacked legal standing to challenge Arvada for violating Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

Russell Weisfield claimed that the City Council’s Jan. 10 decision to install new member Jerry Marks was illegal because councilmembers marked unsigned sheets of paper four times to eliminate other candidates before settling on Marks. But a district court judge, while acknowledging that “the voting procedure may have violated the secret ballot provision” of the state statute, ruled against Weisfield because he couldn’t prove he had been personally harmed by the council’s hidden votes.

The Colorado Legislature quickly responded to the Jefferson County judge’s decision by unanimously passing HB 14-1390, which ensures that anyone has standing to legally challenge violations of the Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Law. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill in June.

Still, Weisfield argues that he was, in fact, injured because the City Council never remedied its violation of the statute. “Weisfield’s injury was never remedied,” his appeal contends, as he continues to not have knowledge as to how the members of the Arvada City Council voted in selecting Marks to fill the Vacancy due to the secret ballots illegally used in the Selection Process.”

The secret ballots provision of the Sunshine Law was enacted in 2012. It generally prohibits the state or any local public body from voting in secret to adopt “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation” or to take “formal action.”

Weisfield asked the Colorado Court of Appeals to reverse the district court judge’s ruling and, if his lawsuit is successful, order the city of Arvada to pay his attorney fees.

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