Commissioner: Board to be transparent with public
Questions remain over dismissal of county administrator; officials mum
Transparency remains elusive about a key meeting held by Mesa County commissioners last month — allegedly regarding the employment status of then-County Administrator Chantal Unfug — even after commissioners held a meeting Thursday to discuss their processes for posting meeting notices.
“Going forward, we are examining our processes, to make sure we’re in compliance with open meeting laws. And ... we are going to be as transparent as possible,” Commissioner Rose Pugliese said Thursday.
It remains unclear, though, what happened, or what was discussed or decided, at the key Jan. 18 meeting that seemingly sealed Unfug’s fate. She was asked to resign and did so the following week.
The Daily Sentinel has raised a number of questions about whether the state’s Open Meetings Law was followed regarding Unfug’s termination of employment with the county.
State statute calls for open meetings to be held whenever policy decisions are made or “formal action” is taken. Posting of notices of open meetings is required in a “full and timely” manner. That posting must include a specific agenda “when possible,” the law reads.
A notice of the Jan. 11 meeting with the generic title of “Board Business” was posted within the statutory 24-hour period, with no agenda. It’s still unknown what exactly was discussed or decided at the meeting.
Questions put to Mesa County Attorney Lyle Dechant and Pugliese immediately following the meeting Thursday, which was held to discuss the board’s public meeting posting procedures, shed little light on the process that led to Unfug’s dismissal.
Asked whether producing an agenda was possible for the Jan. 18 meeting, Dechant said, “I don’t know.” He added that he believed “an agenda is possible for anything,” but when pressed about why one was not produced for the meeting in question, he said, “I don’t know.”
Asked whether he would have done anything differently regarding the posting of the Jan. 18 meeting, Dechant said, “Everything in hindsight is more difficult.”
Asked whether he believed any “formal action” was taken at the Jan. 18 meeting, Dechant said he didn’t know, citing the fact that he wasn’t in attendance.
“I have very little understanding of what happened,” he said.
Pugliese — who was in attendance — said she didn’t know if “formal action” was taken at the Jan. 18 meeting or not.
“Obviously we had discussions,” she said.
Regarding whether it was possible to produce an agenda for that meeting, Pugliese said, “I don’t know.”
Asked whether she had any concerns about the process that led to Unfug’s dismissal, Pugliese said, “I don’t know, honestly. Lyle says that we did it all right. He’s the county attorney and I’m not.”
Additionally, state statute requires minutes be taken “of all meetings” and that they be provided promptly. Dechant has previously said that no minutes were taken of the Jan. 18 meeting.
Discussion on Thursday among the board, administrative staff and Dechant centered mostly on how the board can better coordinate changes to commissioners’ schedule, and subsequent public postings, during the week. Changes or additions to their schedule — as what happened with the Jan. 18 meeting — are posted in the lobby of the county courthouse.
Commissioners also peppered Dechant with numerous possible meeting scenarios Thursday and whether those instances would require official posting.
At the end of the meeting Thursday, the group decided that one of the ideas they would pursue is potentially putting an electronic sign with schedule changes and meeting additions in the county courthouse lobby.
“I just think it’s important that we all understand how we’re communicating with the community about open meetings, and to make sure that we’re doing it properly,” Pugliese said Thursday.
That echoes sentiments Pugliese shared with the Sentinel editorial board during her campaign for office.
“I don’t think we do a good enough job, generally, in getting in front of confrontational issues,” she said last year.
“So, I’ve been saying, ‘Before it gets on the front page, let’s have community discussions,’” she said.
“I think being more proactive with the community than we have been will be really important.”