Colorado Springs possibly breaking state law by doling out millions in secret sessions

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): In closed executive sessions that some legal experts say violate Colorado’s open meetings law, the Colorado Springs City Council has doled out about $5.4 million to settle a string of cases, including racial and gender discrimination.

The council’s closed-door process is so secretive that it remains unclear how long it’s been going on, where much of the money comes from and how much has been spent.

The city’s attorneys settled at least seven such cases since 2013, and neither public votes nor official council records approving the payments could be found by The Gazette.

The newspaper’s review included a search of legal filings obtained from the city through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

The city declined to respond to questions about public votes, discussions and the history of the council’s practices.

City spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said that would be an inappropriate use of time for the city’s attorneys.

Experts decry the actions – which date back years, if not decades – as a flagrant breach of the state’s open meeting laws. Governmental entities and other public bodies are prohibited from making decisions in closed sessions under the state’s open meeting law. The Gazette recently reported two instances in which the council appeared to break that law.

Even informal council actions, such as giving direction to City Attorney Wynetta Massey through head nods, constitute a decision, says Denver First Amendment attorney Steven D. Zansberg, who has represented The Gazette.

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