Basalt council members vow to pare down closed sessions
August 29, 2016
Basalt town government has held so many executive sessions this year that even some members of the Town Council are saying "Enough."
The council has held 24 regular or special meetings through August this year. The agendas show they went into executive sessions, which are closed to the public, 11 times. For comparison, the Aspen City Council has met six times in executive session so far this year, according to the City Clerk's Office.
The Basalt issue came to a head Tuesday when Councilman Mark Kittle refused to participate in a closed meeting between Town Attorney Tom Smith and the council to discuss Town Manager Mike Scanlon's resignation and the potential purchase of property at the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site.
Kittle said he felt the council was holding too many closed-door sessions on Smith's advice. He said he found most of them to be unnecessary.
“We’re like the Knights Templar, always meeting in secret.”
— Basalt Councilman Mark Kittle
"I'm just tired of all the secret crap," Kittle said outside the meeting.
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The town government also has come under fire from residents who allege it is abusing executive session law. Resident Mary Kenyon said earlier this month that her research indicates the town isn't properly identifying the need for its executive sessions. The notices are too broad and don't offer specificity, she said.
The latest notice broke ranks with earlier practice and offered more detail on the need for the closed sessions. Rather than saying it was meeting for a personnel matter, as it has in the past, the notice said the council would receive legal advice regarding the "Mike Scanlon personnel matter."
Also, rather than just saying it needed to discuss a negotiating position, as it has in the past, the notice said the negotiations pertained to property owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.
Greater detail isn't the issue for Kittle; he questions the need for the closed meetings. He said Thursday he is meeting with Smith today to voice his concerns.
"We're like the Knights Templar, always meeting in secret," Kittle said, referring to the order of knights that was allegedly disbanded 700 years ago but thought by some to merely have gone underground and still be in existence.
Other members of the council also have indicated they want a clear policy on when they will go into executive session. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilmen Auden Schendler and Gary Tennenbaum expressed support for such a policy at Tuesday's meeting.
Schendler said Thursday that he supports drastically reducing the closed meetings.
"I think we could cut back to near zero," he said.
Whitsitt said Smith is working on a policy that will be reviewed by the council. She said she supports reducing the number of executive sessions and providing more specific information about the topic on agendas when they are necessary.
When a government is vague and cites a Colorado Revised Statutes number as justification for the closed meeting, it can be confusing and frustrating for residents because it is hard to understand, she said.
"The whole deal about executive sessions seems hocus-pocus, and it doesn't need to be that way," Whitsitt said.