Politicians put positive spin on public meeting in Craig

Excluding reporters from a public meeting Tuesday in which Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with northwest Colorado residents and others in Craig was a mistake, but ought not affect the process of dealing with a grouse, officials said Thursday.

“Transparency is incredibly important, and there is no reason that reporters shouldn’t have been allowed to be present for the public meeting where citizens and elected officials were voicing their concerns” to Jewell, the office of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said.

Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District includes the lands on the Western Slope that stand to be affected by proposed management changes aimed at precluding a listing of the greater sage-grouse as endangered.

A spokesman for Jewell noted Thursday that a Colorado newspaper had concluded there was no violation of Colorado Sunshine laws and also noted that the question of press access was high on the list of things considered by the Interior Department.

“We held dozens of events and meetings this week during the three-day Western swing and staff routinely discusses and plans which events will be open press,” said spokesman Blake Androff in an email to The Daily Sentinel.

Androff noted that The Craig Daily Press had concluded on the advice of Colorado Press Association attorney Steve Zansberg that there had been no violation of Colorado’s Sunshine laws.

“That is not correct,” said Daily Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton, an attorney.

Zansberg dealt with whether a federal official must comply with Colorado open meetings law, and whether a meeting between a federal official and state or local officials must be open to the press.

The overriding questions, though, are whether a federal official has authority to close a noticed, public meeting that is required to be open under Colorado law and whether a federal official has authority to hold a hearing open to the public, yet selectively exclude members of the press.

“The answer to both of these questions is no,” Seaton said.

Representatives of Tipton’s office, as well as those from U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, attended the Craig meeting, but were unaware that reporters had been barred from attendance, officials from all the offices said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper likewise attended the event, but wasn’t aware that reporters were prevented from attending the meeting of Jewell and stakeholders in the American Legion hall.

Reporters from The Craig Daily Press and radio station KRAI both were stopped by officials and told they couldn’t enter the meeting, which included as many as 50 other people.

Officials with the Interior Department said the meeting was open to the public, but not to the press and noted that Jewell had been available to reporters for an hour during a visit to a Moffat County ranch.

“From our standpoint, there was no taint that occurred,” said a Udall spokesman, Mike Saccone, noting that Udall will continue to work with local leaders, ranchers, and businesses to deal with the sage-grouse in a way that doesn’t harm the local economy by preserving the bird.

Hickenlooper’s office took a similar tack.

“What happened shouldn’t distract from the good work being done on the sage-grouse issue, nor should it diminish the effort Secretary Jewell and her team made to spend time in Colorado talking to landowners and others,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said.

Bennet’s office likewise said the fate of the grouse is an important issue “and it is critical that federal, state and local entities engage in a partnership to develop the best path forward. We’re glad local officials had an opportunity to express their concerns with the secretary and hope the dialogue will continue.”


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