Editorial: Secret ballot ruling raises big concerns

From the Times-Call (Longmont):  The Colorado General Assembly has work to do to further protect residents from decisions by elected officials made secretly in meetings, because some judges are reaching strange conclusions when interpreting the Colorado Open Meetings Law.

Last week Jefferson County District Judge Margie Enquist ruled against an Arvada citizen who challenged his community’s city council after members took four secret ballots to make preliminary eliminations of candidates for an open council seat. The final vote deciding who would be appointed was done in a public manner, and notice of the meeting was properly made. Colorado has been a national leader in requiring open government and open records, but this decision casts doubt on the commitment of the state and its political subdivisions to openness, a goal strongly supported by Colorado residents.

As part of his argument to invalidate the Arvada City Council’s action on Jan. 10, Russell Weisfield reminded the court that lawmakers in 2012 added a provision to the Open Meetings Law “that prohibits the state or any local public body from using secret ballots to adopt any proposed public policy, position, resolution, rule or regulation or to take formal action,” notes Jeffrey A. Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. (In narrowly defined situations, secret ballots are allowed.)

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