The following editorial is reprinted with permission from the (Leadville) Herald Democrat.
We hoped it wouldn’t come to this.
On Friday (Oct. 18) we filed suit against the Lake County Board of County Commissioners claiming a violation of the Colorado Sunshine Laws. This violation happened in February when the BOCC held what it termed a two-part “emergency executive session” without posting either meeting. We got involved when a citizen, who saw that the unposted meeting was taking place, called us to express concern.
Because the two-part meeting was held with no notice and because there was no true emergency, we consider the meeting to be illegal.
We are also puzzled by the fact that the first part of this “emergency executive session” was held on the same day that the commissioners held their regular board meeting. First came the “session,” followed by the properly noticed board meeting, followed the next morning by the second part of the “session.” Yet no mention was made at the regular meeting that the “session” was taking place; no notice was placed on the courthouse doors at any time. The BOCC also did not choose to make the executive session part of its regular meeting.
After being assured that this “emergency executive session” was taped, as required by law, we made a number of attempts to acquire those tapes. Initially we simply asked. Eventually we filed written Colorado Open Records Act requests. Each time we received a different answer as to why they were being denied. We’d ask. The BOCC, through its lawyer, would deny. We’d refute through our attorney and ask again. The BOCC would come up with a new argument and deny. And on it went.
At the beginning, we had no idea what could be so hush-hush. We quickly came to learn that the same day that part two of this meeting took place, Feb. 20, Tommy Taylor resigned as the head of the building department. Commissioner Mike Bordogna told us that Taylor resigned for “personal reasons.” He refused to comment when we asked if the “emergency executive session” had anything to do with Taylor’s resignation. He and the county attorney, Lindsey Parlin, claim that no decisions were made during the two-part meeting.
As you are likely aware, Taylor was arrested and charged with possession with intent to dispense a schedule II controlled substance (prescription drugs) and criminal solicitation on Aug. 1. This case is just beginning to make its way through the legal system.
Our lawsuit, however, is not about Taylor; it is about the county commissioners.
To us the BOCC isn’t just three strangers sitting at a table pronouncing judgment on how the county should be run. We know them; we know their families. We’re aware that they’ve made some good decisions on behalf of Lake County and its residents – decisions that we’ve found easy to support.
In this case, however, we believe they made a decision to willfully violate the open meetings law. And this we cannot support.
As journalists, we at the Herald Democrat believe that the public’s business should be conducted openly by those we elect.
They say you have to choose your battles. This one is ours.
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