GarCo Democratic candidates assail closed commission meetings

Two Democratic Garfield County Commission candidates want more commission proceedings to see the light of day.

Candidate Steve Carter, an attorney whose work includes representing municipalities, says the county meets too often behind closed doors in what are called executive sessions.

“That’s not how government is supposed to work, and if I’m elected I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Carter, who is running against Republican Mike Sampson for an open seat, said he came by his aversion to closed-door meetings while studying journalism in college.

Republican Commissioner John Martin said Carter’s criticism is off the mark. “If that’s going to be his legal advice and opinion, then I’m glad I have a different attorney,” he said.

But Stephen Bershenyi, who is running against Martin, shares Carter’s concerns, particularly as they pertain to closed-door meetings held in advance of reaching an agreement with Chevron over rebuilding County Road 204 near De Beque. Bershenyi and Carter have raised questions about the agreement, under which Chevron will put up $25 million and the county will support it if it seeks a severance tax credit for its contribution.

State law allows local governments to meet privately to discuss matters such as contract negotiations and personnel. But Carter said the county doesn’t always have to do so in such cases and grossly abuses the prerogative. Carter said he has reviewed minutes from meetings this year and that they often included a half-dozen or more items discussed in private.

Carter said the county holds more executive sessions than other local governments.

Martin said that’s because of the number of issues the county handles. County attorney Don DeFord agreed and said the county’s workload requires a staff of five attorneys who advise commissioners on everything from child protection cases to lawsuits involving the county.

Martin is chairman of the board of commissioners, which means he runs the meetings. However, the commission can meet in private only with a majority vote, he said. DeFord said when the three-member board votes to go into executive session, it’s almost always by a unanimous vote.

Bershenyi said if he is elected, contract negotiations will be done more in the open. But Martin and DeFord said the county discusses contracts in private to avoid revelations that could weaken the county’s bargaining position and result in a worse deal for taxpayers.


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