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Woodland Park Wally-gate 

City Council broke state law by concealing Wal-Mart discussion

Woodland Park's city council broke the law when they discussed a proposed Wal-Mart in a secret meeting and then concealed it, a state judge ruled last week.

"Actions by public officials are supposed to be conducted in the light of public scrutiny," noted 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy. He ruled the Nov. 18 meeting last year broke the state's "sunshine law" requiring most city council meetings be held publicly.

As a result, Woodland Park must make public the recordings of the meeting, as well as pay Citizens for Responsible Growth, the anti-big-box group that sued the city, for their legal fees.

"They actually plotted against the citizens in that meeting," said Erik Stone, the group's spokesman.

The group initially received no record from city council of the secret meeting, after requests were made for all official communication about Wal-Mart's plan to open a supercenter in the nearby mountain city. After further requests, the group received a series of dubbed tapes.

The first tape ended suddenly after 90 seconds of conversation about Wal-Mart. Not satisfied, the group demanded the full recording and received a second tape from the city attorney's office with about 10 minutes of discussion. The original tape, played in district court last week, contained around 18 minutes of discussion. The group charges that 40 seconds of conversation remain missing.

Kennedy ruled the original tape complete. But he scolded City Council for initially concealing the meeting, saying, "Instead of going back and acknowledging their mistake ... they again went back and tried to hide the ball."

"I should have halted [the meeting]," said City Manager Mark Fitzgerald, denying the charge that council plotted against the citizens. The tape, which will be made public this week "will show almost the opposite of that," he said. Fitzgerald said he didn't know why incomplete tapes were sent to Citizens for Responsible Growth.

The council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve Wal-Mart next month.

"It was a complete cover up," Stone said. "I think they're so tarnished they hope it goes away."

-- Dan Wilcock

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