In last week's Independent, we published an editorial that opposed Mayor Steve Bach's attempts to circumvent Colorado's Sunshine Law regarding open meetings, specifically involving the Memorial Health System task force.
In our desire for fairness, we also invited the mayor to respond and articulate in detail why it was in the best interests of Colorado Springs citizens to avoid long-standing transparency mandates.
Even before that invitation appeared in print, we sent messages to the mayor's office with more detail. Whatever he wanted to say, we were willing to make room for it, even if it approached 1,000 words. Monday morning, this e-mail arrived: "We will have a response."
It came late Monday, along with the message that the mayor really wanted City Councilor Jan Martin, chair of the Memorial task force, to defend the city's position.
We flinched, because our invitation had gone to the mayor. Our main issue had been with Bach and three businessmen allies from the Regional Leadership Forum serving as task force "collaborators," but not members, freeing them from following open-meetings laws.
Bach did not address the substance of the concerns we raised. It amounted to exactly 50 words, the last two of which assured he would follow the Sunshine Law "as prescribed." Obviously, that meant embracing City Attorney Pat Kelly's supportive opinion, saying Bach and the Regional Leadership Forum reps could act as private collaborators with the task force, not bound by the Sunshine Law and thus able to conduct city business in secret, behind closed doors.
Bach's shallow statement demonstrated that he doesn't embrace open, participatory government. If he had run on such a platform, he might not have won the election earlier this year.
Tuesday, Jan Martin's comment arrived from the mayor's office. But it contained a surprise: "The task force is currently made up of four members of Council, the Mayor, representatives from the Regional Leadership Forum and six individuals from the medical community."
Now we are confused. By labeling everyone as part of the task force, Martin basically opposes the opinion of Kelly and the mayor. Martin also told our reporter Pam Zubeck, as described in the accompanying news story, that she'll push the task force at its Friday meeting to abide by the Sunshine Law without exceptions going forward.
There's a lot at stake here. Martin sees the danger in allowing this controversy to paralyze the process of moving Memorial toward a new, more sustainable model. Hopefully she also sees another danger — of the mayor being allowed to set a bad precedent. We shudder at the thought of more task forces, more collaborators and more sashaying around the Sunshine Law, all in the name of doing what's best for the community, while real deals and negotiations are done in secret. We suspect that the Memorial task force already violated the Sunshine Law last week, when two of its four members from City Council combined with collaborator Doug Quimby to interview consultants for the task force in private.
So we disagree with the outgoing city attorney. We instead agree with the opinion of Denver attorney Steve Zansberg, arguably the state's most noted authority on this subject, who believes Kelly's logic is flawed because the collaborators sit at the table and have all other benefits, such as access to materials given only to the task force members.
If constituents believe this is not an open process, and if they think it's another version of the U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal, they'll reject any proposal about Memorial — and we all will lose. Doctors are leaving Memorial for Penrose-St. Francis, and more than 1,000 Memorial employees whose jobs, families and careers are on the line have cared enough to sign a letter asking the task force for transparency.
We need clarity and leadership from Mayor Bach. We still hope he and City Council will come around and stop looking for loopholes in the law. They still can salvage the task force's mission, but time is short.
Our position is clear: The only acceptable outcome is full transparency, as required by law. So, Mayor Bach and City Council, it's your move.
The mayor's response
This week, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach accepted the Independent's invitation to explain, unedited, "the benefit he believes the public will obtain if he and his allies operate outside our Sunshine Law mandates" in regard to the Memorial Health System task force.
But instead of filling the half-page we offered, Bach provided a one-paragraph response, sent by e-mail attachment on city letterhead. It is as follows:
'The citizens of Colorado Springs will ultimately, by a vote, decide the future of Memorial Hospital. I am committed to ensuring that our community has a say in what happens to Colorado Springs' second largest asset and a precious resource. I fully intend to comply with Sunshine Laws as prescribed.'