Secret settlements and an 800-pound gorilla worry Colorado Springs City Council

The Complete Colorado: The Colorado Springs City Council moved forward in its goal of increasing council transparency, but issues remain. At a council work session Monday Assistant City Attorney Tracy Lessig put forward options for how the council can increase accountability and transparency without compromising the city’s ability to negotiate the best deal for taxpayers in settling claims and lawsuits.

Members of the council have expressed discomfort with closed-door settlement authorizations for years. In May, under pressure from the media to disclose how much public money was spent settling claims and lawsuits, the council asked City Attorney Wynetta Massey to begin work on proposals to improve transparency.

The issue is whether Council members’ “head nod” or “thumbs up/thumbs down” approvals of a proposed settlement in a closed executive session is legal, appropriate, or even accurate.

Of the informal nature of executive session approvals, Councilman Don Knight explained, “Does the majority of the council agree with it? The one case I remember the head nods were miscounted.”

According to the Colorado Open Meetings Law (COML) any decision on “policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action” by the council must be done in an open public meeting. The question is does authorizing a settlement fall within those boundaries? Lessig said that settlement approvals do not but instead fall under an exception for negotiations in the COML.

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