Press booted as Interior chief Jewell meets Moffat officials
A meeting about greater sage-grouse that had been touted as open to the press and public was closed to the press Tuesday afternoon, in seeming violation of Colorado’s Sunshine Law.
Erin Fenner, a Craig Daily Press reporter, was told to leave a meeting with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell that followed a Tuesday morning tour of Moffat County sage-grouse habitat on Bord Gulch Ranch. Fenner said she’d heard that the 3:30 p.m. meeting at the Craig American Legion was going to be closed, “but (Tuesday) morning all three county commissioners said (the meeting) was going to be open and the press should come,” Fenner said.
A man who didn’t identify himself, but whom Fenner said she thought works in the Secretary of the Interior’s office and was acting on Jewell’s behalf, escorted her from the room and told her she couldn’t be there because she was with the press, Fenner recalled.
After Fenner returned to the newspaper office, managing editor Noelle Leavitt Riley called Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid on his cell phone and he told her, “Send her back to the meeting,” Leavitt Riley said, Kinkaid referring to the reporter Fenner.
Fenner returned to the meeting, she said, and was told to leave once again by the same man. She said she brought up Colorado’s Sunshine Law “and he said that we weren’t going to argue about it any more and said I had to get out,” Fenner said.
She said all three Moffat County commissioners were at the meeting, which she said appeared to be a standard question-and-answer session.
According to the state Open Meetings Law — a part of Colorado’s Sunshine statutes — “all meetings of a quorum of three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken are open.”
Leavitt Riley said she then went to the American Legion building and the doors were locked, so she pounded on the window until someone let her in, “but by that time the meeting had adjourned,” she said. “So, I go over to (Moffat County Commissioner) Tom Mathers and said, ‘Did you know Erin was kicked out of this meeting?’ And he said, ‘No, this was an open meeting.’”
As she was leaving, Leavitt Riley said she saw Jewell in a car in the parking lot and the driver-side door was open, so she approached Jewell “and she said the press was not allowed at this meeting,” Leavitt Riley recalled.
“I said, do you realize more than a dozen elected officials were in it? She said the tour was open to the press but this was a closed meeting” and then drove away, Leavitt Riley said.
She said the newspaper is pursuing the matter with the Colorado Press Association. No one with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s office was available for comment Tuesday night.