Concerns raised by The Plaindealer over state Sunshine laws lead to special session
The Ridgway Town Council will meet during a special meeting Monday night to finalize their decision to offer the town manager job to Preston Neill, who is currently the assistant town manager of Avon.
However, the council already made its decision on Nov. 8, as reported previously in The Plaindealer.
The council selected Neill for the job and directed their consultant to negotiate a contract with him last week, at the end of a long day of interviews the finalists had with councilors and stakeholders.
The special meeting Monday was scheduled after the Plaindealer raised concerns over whether the meeting the council held was properly noticed, according to state open meetings laws, and whether the decision made by councilors was made in accordance with state law.
The council publicly noticed the meeting to interview the finalists as a closed-door executive session. Such meetings excluding the public are allowed under state law for a few reasons, including personnel matters. Executive sessions are legally required to be recorded under state law.
However, when councilors met that day to begin the interviews, the meeting was held in a different location than their usual meeting place, where their recording equipment is available. Instead, they were interviewed in current Town Administrator Jen Coates’ office. Without their usual equipment to record the meeting, councilors and their consultant decided to not vote to enter executive session, held the meeting behind closed doors, and didn’t record the meeting as they normally do their public sessions.
According to state law, public bodies that started recording their open, public meetings after Aug. 8, 2001 must continue recording those meetings, which did not happen in this case, either. There is a provision of the law that allows a reprieve from this requirement if the recording equipment is inoperable but doesn’t address situations where someone doesn’t make it available.
According to Mark Garcia, the consultant hired by the town to facilitate the search and hiring process, the finalists entered the office and the door shut behind each one, providing a private place for the council to interview the candidates. Garcia said the council never entered an executive session and considered this to be a public meeting. All the councilors were present except Mayor Pro Tem Eric Johnson.
After the interviews concluded, councilors met with the stakeholders who conducted their interviews of the finalists in the larger meeting room. This was also not a properly noticed public meeting, according to state law.
After the meeting with the stakeholders, councilors met again with Garcia and decided “by consensus” to offer the job to Neill, according to Garcia.
State law also requires any formal action, in this case the decision to offer the job to Neill, to take place in a properly noticed, public meeting where a vote occurs. It does not appear that this happened when the council selected Neill for the job on Nov. 8. There was no notice posted for a public meeting on this date.
After reviewing state open meetings laws and consulting with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, The Plaindealer contacted town officials about concerns over compliance with those regulations.
Mayor John Clark acknowledged the meeting to interview finalists had been posted as an an executive session, though no vote was taken to enter an executive session and no recording was made of the meeting. He also said it took place behind a closed door but said Garcia said it was considered an open, public session. He said the plans for the meeting were derailed by the lack of recording equipment and they just wanted to get on with the interviews, and the notice of the meeting was a “little catawampus.”
Garcia said after discussion with the town’s attorney, Bo Nerlin, a decision was made to schedule the special meeting Monday night to discuss the matter in public.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Ridgway Community Center and the agenda also states the council will enter into a contract for the town manager job.