Editorial: Grand Junction needs capability to access text messages

From The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction):  The city of Grand Junction finds itself in a legal pickle stemming, in part, from its lack of a clear policy on retaining and retrieving text messages.

The City Council has been tight-lipped about the circumstances that led to former City Manager Rich Englehart’s departure, amid swirling questions of his relationship with a subordinate that featured heavy use of text messages.

We contend that the City Council violated the state’s open meetings law when it met in executive session June 20 to discuss a personnel issue. Why? Because four days later the council accepted Englehart’s resignation in a public meeting and agreed to pay him $127,000 in severance with no discussion.

Public bodies aren’t supposed to take action in executive session. But it’s evident that the council met June 24 merely to “rubber stamp” a decision it had already made secretly in executive session — to accept Englehart’s resignation and pay him severance.

On Tuesday, Steve Zansberg, a lawyer representing the Colorado Press Association, asked the city to release a copy of the audio recording of the executive session to The Daily Sentinel. If the council unlawfully took action in the closed-door meeting, a judge could order a release of that portion of the recording, Zansberg said. In essence, the council invalidated the privilege of privacy it enjoys in such circumstances. No word yet on whether the city plans to comply with that request.

It’s no secret that Englehart resigned amid an internal investigation — an investigation, no doubt, launched because The Sentinel filed multiple Colorado Open Records Act requests seeking direct communications between Englehart and the employee in question.

We learned that the city is fully capable of retrieving email. For example, one email sent June 10 from the employee to Englehart — with the subject line “Internal Investigation” — was withheld by City Attorney John Shaver, citing state statute.

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