Proposal would put Colorado Springs’ high-dollar settlements into spotlight

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): Colorado Springs’ high-dollar lawsuit settlements would be decided in public rather than closed-door meetings under new ordinances the City Council is considering.

The council asked City Attorney Wynetta Massey this summer how best to change its practices after The Gazette reported that it had paid about $5.4 million in lawsuit settlements since 2013, all in closed sessions. Those settlements included 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.

Tracy Lessig, an attorney for the city, unveiled three ordinances Monday that would make public the settlement decisions. She said the city’s current process follows the state’s open meetings law, and the new ordinances stem from the council’s desire “to be more transparent than the law requires.”

But First Amendment experts and legislators disagree. They have said approving high-dollar settlements behind closed doors violates the law and obscures residents’ understanding of how tax dollars are spent.

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