Did text message exchange among Littleton councilors violate Open Meetings Law?

From the Littleton Independent:  When at-large Littleton City Councilmember Doug Clark introduced a motion to fire Michael Penny at a special council meeting, he said it was due to incompetence and a lack of transparency on the city manager’s part. But others believe it is part of a concerted effort to stop progress in the city, actions that may have included communications that violated open-meetings law.

“We have had, over the last six months, a multi-pronged approach to dismantle this city,” District 1 Councilmember Bill Hopping said at the June 14 meeting, citing an attempt to abolish the city’s urban-renewal authority as well as the voting down at the May 3 council meeting of a $200,000 streetscape study that would have provided recommendations for parking and safety improvements.

Council voted 4-2 to fire Penny, effective immediately, ending his nearly five-year tenure with the city.

A text message exchange between Mayor Bruce Beckman; his wife, state House District 38 candidate and former Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman; and District 2 Councilmember Jerry Valdes obtained by the Littleton Independent shows there apparently was discussion of firing Penny as far back as May 21.

In the exchange, the mayor appears to have told his wife that at-large Councilmember Peggy Cole had lost confidence in Penny and was asking if other councilmembers had. Valdes responded he told Cole he was not interested in firing Penny at that time, with Susan Beckman advising her husband not to repeat what Cole had told him, but rather to “stay neutral and encourage others to act.”

The mayor said that while he spoke to individual councilmembers, he said he did not speak to more than one at a time, and thus did not violate open-meeting laws.

“The fact of the matter is there was no illegal meetings,” he said.

But the president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance that works to ensure transparency in state and local government, sees it differently. After reviewing a screen shot of the text message exchange, attorney Steve Zansberg said it looks like a violation of open-meetings law.

Visit the Littleton Independent for more.

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