Commissioners refuse to take law seriously
Mesa County commissioners are an obstinate bunch.
No matter how often we question their adherence to state laws that protect the public’s right to know, they continue to flirt with violations.
The most recent example came May 27 when commissioners met for a meeting posted as “Briefing: Audit.”
But no auditors were present. According to the only private citizen in attendance, the commission discussed a policy change regarding non-federal intergovernmental funds — the money the county receives from municipalities for things like animal control and election services.
Commissioners discussed whether the existing policy violated provisions of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
The only reason we know this is because Dennis Simpson, a self-appointed local government watchdog, took notes which he submitted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation as evidence of an Open Meetings Law violation. There are no official minutes of the meeting.
As Simpson pointed out in Monday’s public hearing — in which the commission formally reversed a 7-year-old decision to exempt non-federal intergovernmental funds from revenue calculations — the commissioners had already discussed the matter in the May 27 meeting, which gave the public no hint of a policy debate.
The meeting was not recorded.
Colorado’s Open Meetings Law defines a public meeting as one in which a quorum of board members discusses or makes a decision on public business and requires counties to keep minutes for a meeting in which a decision could or does occur.
It’s a matter of legal interpretation as to whether the county violated the letter of the law because it took no official action in the May 27 meeting. It simply agreed to take an official vote at Monday’s public hearing. But commissioners violated the spirit of the law, which calls for transparency when public officials are conducting the people’s business.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca quickly said, “No,” when asked if commissioners violated the law. But Commissioner Rose Pugliese was less decisive. She acknowledged Simpson made a good argument that the May 27 discussion “was not a proper meeting.”
If she feels that way — and she should — Pugliese needs to be more assertive. She seems to be the only commissioner who recognizes that the county’s indifference to sunshine laws undermines the public trust. Therefore, she remains the best hope of righting a listing ship. Making sure the county hires an attorney who shares her commitment to transparency is a good start.