City shouldn’t dismiss the public | AspenTimes.com

City shouldn’t dismiss the public

Aspen, CO Colorado

The Aspen City Council held a retreat Friday and Monday to ponder the biggest issues facing the community, and if the facilitator had his way, it would have been done behind closed doors.

We have a problem with public business being discussed in private, and we think the citizenry should as well.

Tim Ditzler, who is a paid facilitator for the city of Aspen, asked members of the public and the press to leave Friday’s session so the council could talk more openly. He said he didn’t want elected officials to be constrained in their comments.

“It was not a secret meeting,” Ditzler told an Aspen Times reporter. “I just thought people would be more frank.”

We don’t think our elected officials had anything to do with Ditzler’s request for Aspen residents Don Davidson and Marilyn Marks to leave the room, but we do wish council members had spoken up to defend the citizens’ right to be there.

That task fell to City Attorney John Worcester. What he and council members should have said is that the request was completely inappropriate. However healthy and productive it might have been for council members to air grievances and speak frankly in private, it is 100 percent “public business” when a quorum of council members is present, and there are specific, codified reasons that must be duly cited in order to close the doors.

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It concerns us that the city has hired a facilitator with no apparent knowledge or regard for Colorado open meeting laws. At the very least, it was a violation of the spirit of the open meetings law, but no one in City Hall appears that alarmed.

Participating in civics is time-consuming and often boring. But if Aspen residents want to be involved in public affairs, they should not be discouraged from doing so – as was the case last week.

We applaud Davidson for refusing to leave the meeting. Imagine how intimidating it could have been for him to be the only member of the public left in a room full of city officials and being asked to leave.

Intimidation and secrecy is not how city business should be conducted. City Council members, and their paid facilitators, should know better.