Colorado Springs mayor supports change in executive session policies, with two caveats

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers says he supports the City Council’s quest for more transparency in settling high-dollar lawsuits, with two caveats.

Suthers said he couldn’t support public discussions of specific dollar amounts by the council before settlements above $100,000 are finalized, and the council must not debate the individual cases in public.

The council asked City Attorney Wynetta Massey how best to change its practices after The Gazette reported that it had — in closed sessions — paid out about $5.4 million in lawsuit settlements since 2013. The settlements were for cases including claims of racial and gender discrimination.

The state’s open meetings law prohibits public officials from voting or taking any final action in executive sessions. Massey and Suthers defended the practice, though, arguing that no formal votes are taken in the executive sessions. First Amendment experts and legislators disagree.

Last month, the council gave Massey’s office permission in a closed meeting to settle a lawsuit but kept the amount secret. An Army veteran suffering post-traumatic stress disorder sued, saying he was severely injured by a tactical police team that raided his home using tear gas and explosives. The lawsuit was settled for $160,000, court documents eventually showed.

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