Monday, September 12, 2016

Why City Council might have snubbed the Open Meetings Law

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 2:59 PM

Lawsuit anyone? 

A legal action might be warranted, based on the Colorado Springs City Council's failure to abide by the Open Meetings Law, which requires executive items be announced in some detail.

Specifically, the law states that when an executive session is announced, the public body must provide the topic and "identification of the particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized."

click to enlarge ED SCHIPUL
  • Ed Schipul
Keeping that in mind, here's the wording on Monday's Council agenda (all emphasis added):
The matters to be discussed involve: (1) legal advice on a specific legal matter, developing strategy for negotiators and instructing negotiators. 
Now, that would seem like the epitome of vagueness and actually raises a lot of questions, because the Council in the past has announced closed session topics in some detail.

In January 2015, Council held a session after announcing the topic this way:
The issue to be discussed involves legal advice and consultation with the City Attorney regarding a new litigation matter pertaining to former employees of the Memorial Health System.
Here's a notice from May 2015:
The issues to be discussed involve: (1) legal advice and negotiation strategy consultation with the City Attorney regarding a land acquisition matter for Woodmen Road Expansion Phase II, and (2) legal advice and consultation with the City Attorney regarding a lease matter related to Memorial Health System.
Here's one from Feb. 8, 2016, that's vague, like the one for Monday's meeting:
The issues to be discussed involve: (1) legal advice and negotiation consultation with the City Attorney regarding the purchase and acquisition of real property; and (2) legal advice and consultation with the City Attorney regarding First amendment questions
(Sort of ironic, huh, that discussion of the First Amendment required the Council to hide their discussion from the public?)

More vagueness from a March 2016 meeting:
The issues to be discussed involve: (1) legal advice and consultation with the City Attorney regarding settlement of a potential litigation matter; and (2) legal advice and consultation regarding a personnel matter. 
Then, in April 2016:
The issues to be discussed involve: (1) legal advice and negotiation consultation with the City Attorney regarding a pending litigation matter; and (2) legal advice and consultation with the City Attorney regarding ordinances
Surely the Council could have told citizens which ordinances.

From the April 25, 2016, agenda:
The item to be considered is a personnel discussion regarding Council appointees.
From the Aug. 8, 2016, agenda:
The issues to be discussed involve 1) legal advice, consultation and negotiation strategy discussion with the City Attorney regarding a potential acquisition or purchase of railroad real property, 2) legal advice, consultation and negotiation strategy discussion with the City Attorney regarding a potential litigation matter and the purchase of real property for South Tejon Street improvements, and 3) legal advice, consultation and negotiation strategy discussion with the City Attorney regarding a potential litigation matter and a special district exclusion.
So the only thing that can be said for sure is that City Council is inconsistent in announcing its executive sessions. Sometimes they're OK with the public knowing what they're up to, and other times they're not. Makes you wonder what's going on in those vaguely announced sessions, eh?

In any event, when we challenged the notice given for Monday's meeting, we received this explanation in an email from Council staffer Travis Duncan:
I spoke with City of Colorado Springs Legislative Counsel David Andrews about your question concerning the Executive Session in today’s Council Work Session Meeting. Andrews informed me that our notices follow the statute authorizing Council to meet in Executive Session by identifying the particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.
Does Mr. Andrews and City Council really think that there's specificity to this: "legal advice on a specific legal matter, developing strategy for negotiators and instructing negotiators"? 

Here's a list that what that "specific legal matter" could include: A deal with a citizen over police brutality; a deal with a developer over the Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement, a deal with female cops over their lawsuit regarding physical ability testing, a deal with The Broadmoor over swapping more open space, and on and on.

As it is we'll just have to guess, unless someone wants to file a lawsuit...

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