Attorney: Garfield County manager search talks should have been public
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County has temporarily halted its search for a new county manager, following an admission that a Jan. 9 closed-door meeting between county commissioners and their hired search consultant was in violation of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.At the direction of county attorney Andrew Gorgey, the consulting firm of Peckham & McKenney was asked this week to cease work in drafting a job description for the manager’s position.Gorgey said after reviewing the law and reading a legal opinion provided by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s attorney, Steven Zansberg, some of the topics covered in the Jan. 9 meeting fell outside the realm of topics for executive sessions.”You are entitled to inspect the tape of that meeting,” Gorgey told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent after making his determination. “And we will need to do the meeting again in public.”A special meeting of the Garfield Board of County Commissioners has been scheduled for Monday, Jan. 23, to essentially hold the same conversation again with search consultant Phil McKenney that previously took place in executive session.Only this time it will take place in a public meeting, Gorgey said.Included in the Jan. 9 meeting with McKenney were county commissioners John Martin, Mike Samson and Tom Jankovsky, as well as Gorgey and county human resources director Katherine Ross.The private nature of the meeting was based on Gorgey’s opinion that the consultant would be serving as the commissioners’ primary negotiator during the screening process to find a replacement for longtime county manager Ed Green.”I still stand behind my initial reasoning for the executive session,” Gorgey said. “The county’s contract with Peckham & McKenney includes the ability to involve them in negotiations.”Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 3 to fire Green, who had been in the position for more than 13 years and had just recently negotiated a new one-year contract with the county.Gorgey was appointed by the commissioners as acting county manager during the search process, which is expected to last up to four months.The Jan. 9 meeting with McKenney included a general exchange between the commissioners about the qualities they would like to see in a new manager.The Post Independent retains Zansberg through its parent company, Colorado Mountain News Media, to offer legal advice on public meetings and public records law, as well as First Amendment issues.In his legal opinion regarding the topics covered in the Jan. 9 executive session, Zansberg wrote via email:”To say that the search firm/consultant may some day, in the future, be negotiating with one of the candidates and therefore the meeting – to determine the search criteria and the process to select a county manager – qualifies as a ‘meeting to instruct negotiators’ simply doesn’t pass the laugh test.”Zansberg said a judge in Larimer County District Court made a ruling to that effect just last year.The Colorado Open Meetings Law (C.R.S. 24-6-402) states, in part:”A search committee of a … local public body shall establish job search goals, including the writing of the job description, deadlines for applications, requirements for applicants, selection procedures, and the time frame for appointing or employing a chief executive officer … at an open meeting.”The Jan. 23 meeting of commissoners will also include consideration of a resolution establishing a new policy and procedures for holding executive sessions in general.”The purpose of the resolution is for the board to make a policy statement that they want executive sessions to be rare and limited to statutory purposes,” Gorgey said.Gorgey, who was hired last May as county attorney, was also instrumental in having the county establish its own open records policy last year.Previously, Garfield County deferred to the procedures outlined in the Colorado Open Records Act for handling open records requests.As of last September, county administration began using its own tailored policy that calls for the use of an official form to request an open record. The form is available by calling the county commissioners office (945-5004), and is posted on the county’s website (www.garfield-county.com).firstname.lastname@example.org
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