Basalt open records battle will head to court next week
BATTLE IN A NUTSHELL
Basalt resident Ted Guy and allies contend the town held four illegal executive sessions this year. They want audio recordings of those meetings released. They are also seeking emails and texts of three elected officials.
The town counters that there were no improper executive sessions. There are no audio recordings of two of the meetings. The recordings of the other two meetings can be legally withheld, according to the town’s reply. In addition, the town supplied texts and emails of Scanlon, but not the three elected officials. There was no explanation.
A battle over whether Basalt town government is conducting its business in a legal and transparent manner is headed to Eagle County District Court.
Basaltine Ted Guy notified the town government Wednesday that he plans to take legal action next week to try to obtain records he requested in August. Guy will seek a judge’s order directing the town to show cause for why the access to documents he requested has been denied, according to the notice filed on his behalf by Denver attorney Steven Zansberg.
Guy is demanding all text messages on public business exchanged among Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and council members Jennifer Riffle, Katie Schwoerer or former Town Manager Mike Scanlon between July 1 and Aug. 25. He also wants all text messages sent or received by Whitsitt in which public business was discussed since Aug. 1.
Guy’s request also is for audio recordings of what he contends were “improperly convened closed-door meetings” of the council on April 26, May 24, Aug. 9 and Aug. 11.
In a prior interview, Zansberg said the meetings weren’t noticed with enough specificity on the topic to be discussed. Colorado law requires as much detail to be disclosed without compromising the discussion, he said.
Town contends sessions were legal
In a somewhat unusual action, the Town Council emerged from a Sept. 13 executive session, which is closed to the public, and made a public announcement that it wouldn’t provide the audio recordings sought by Guy. Council members said they felt the meetings were properly closed because they were held on personnel matters involving Scanlon.
Scanlon resigned Aug. 19 and demanded one year of severance pay. The issue hasn’t been resolved. Attorneys for the two sides are negotiating a settlement.
A letter to Zansberg from Town Clerk Pam Schilling on Sept. 13 amplified the town’s decision not to release the recordings.
“The town is not aware of any improperly convened meetings of the Town Council,” Schilling wrote.
In addition, the executive sessions of Aug. 11 and May 24 weren’t recorded, so there are no audio recordings to share, according to Schilling.
“I am informed by the attorneys for the town that the recordings of the executive sessions for April 26 and Aug. 9 are confidential, privileged, not a public record and not subject to disclosure pursuant to (the Colorado Open Records Act) and the Colorado Open Meetings Law,” Schilling wrote.
Texts, emails at issue
In response to the request for emails and texts of elected officials and Scanlon, the town replied, “Copies of emails and copies of text messages received from Mr. Scanlon’s attorney are available for inspection.”
Likewise, in response to Guy’s request for Whitsitt’s business texts since Aug. 1, the town replied, “Copies of text messages received from Mr. Scanlon’s attorney are available for inspection.”
No texts or emails from Whitsitt, Schwoerer or Riffle were provided by the town.
Whitsitt’s retention of texts were the subject of a complaint by a different Basalt resident earlier this year. Mary Kenyon sought all business texts exchanged between Whitsitt and Schilling immediately before and after the April 5 municipal election. Both women said they erased the texts.
Kenyon filed a complaint with the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office contending public records weren’t properly maintained or provided. District Attorney Bruce Brown declined to pursue criminal charges against Schilling or Whitsitt. The town government said it would work on a policy for retaining texts, but the council has reviewed no policy in recent months.
Several council members have pledged in recent weeks to reduce the number of closed sessions in the future.
The open-records request that’s leading to the court battle was filed by Guy as well as the “Concerned Citizens of Basalt.” The Aspen Times has been unable to verify the organization exists. Guy and Zansberg previously declined to identify members. Several people aligned with Guy in Basalt politics either said they didn’t belong to the group or declined to answer when approached by The Aspen Times last month.
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