Clapper questions legality of EOTC |

Clapper questions legality of EOTC

Questions flared up again this week over the legal status of a transportation committee made up of elected officials that controls a major portion of the valley’s transit budget.

At Wednesday’s Pitkin County commissioners meeting, Commissioner Leslie Lamont sought legal justification for the fact that the Elected Officials Transportation Committee has not kept minutes or recordings of its meetings over the last three years.

She asked county attorney John Ely to discuss state law on the matter, and explain why the transportation committee is not required to keep track of what is said at its meetings. The transportation committee is made up of all elected officials from Snowmass Village, the city of Aspen and Pitkin County.

“I’m worried about the public perception that what we’re doing is secret and illegal,” Lamont said.

County commissioner Patti Clapper brought the issue to the forefront at the end of last week. She chastised her colleagues on the transportation committee for what she feels is a reluctance to comply with the state law governing how public officials conduct their meetings.

Under the state Open Meetings Act, “local public bodies,” such as a city council or school board, must meet in the open, except in certain circumstances, and keep minutes of the meetings. The law identifies local public bodies as all advisory and decision-making boards or committees within any political subdivision of the state – counties, cities, school districts, water districts, rural transportation authorities and other special districts.

Clapper, the newest member of the transportation committee, went looking a few weeks ago for minutes from a previous meeting to clarify the exact language used in a discussion of rail. That particular discussion was important, Clapper said, because all three governments later agreed to allow downvalley governments additional time to pony up their share of the costs of the Rio Grande railroad right of way purchase. She wanted to see if the original discussion on the transportation committee jibed with the action taken by the governments.

First, she first was told the minutes don’t exist. Then, she was told that Aspen’s Assistant City Manager, Randy Ready, keeps notes at all the meetings. When she contacted Ready about the notes, Clapper recalls, she was told there weren’t any minutes or notes to see. Then, last week, the notes that didn’t exist appeared in Clapper’s and everyone else’s EOTC packet.

That chain of events prompted Clapper to report the situation to the state attorney general’s office, and to dress down her fellow committee members.

The transportation committee has long maintained that it doesn’t fit the definition of a local public body. For one, items discussed that require legislative action are taken back to each member government’s board for final approval. Furthermore, all of the meetings, are advertised to the public by the individual boards and are open to the public.

County Commissioner Dorothea Farris reportedly responded to Clapper’s criticisms by saying she didn’t think it was prudent to spend $30,000 to hire a clerk to take minutes for the transportation committee.

“The EOTC isn’t, in my opinion, a local public body, so it doesn’t trigger the Open Meetings Act,” said county attorney Ely in response to questioning Wednesday by Lamont. Therefore, minutes are not required.

Even so, Lamont’s worries about public perception were apparently shared by enough of her colleagues to prompt them to begin recording their transportation committee meetings.

“I think it’s a public right to know issue,” Clapper said Wednesday. “I just think we need to have some accountability. After all, our discussions at the EOTC come back to us as county commissioners in the form of resolutions.”

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