CMC asks to allow some board decisions on email
Colorado Mountain College’s governing board would be allowed to make decisions on certain “routine” matters via email under a bill that’s been introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives.
HB 16-1259, sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, would permit the elected trustees of the Glenwood Springs-based community college district to take action using email, fax “or other forms of wire or wireless communication,” if proper notice is given beforehand.
The bill would prohibit electronic meetings if any one of the seven CMC board members objects, or if a member of the public requests that the proposed action be discussed during a regular or special meeting, Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer and chief of staff for CMC, explained.
Colorado’s Open Meetings law, or sunshine law, bars email discussions of public business among three or more elected members of a local government body.
CMC operates as a special district, one of only two special community college districts in the state. Originally, Aims Community College in Greeley was included in the bill, but has since opted out.
“We serve a geographic region the size of Maryland, with 11 mountain passes and some areas with no cell service,” Gianneschi said, adding it’s sometimes difficult to get board members together for a special meeting on a single action item.
Telephone conference meetings are permitted under the law, and can be opened up to citizens or the press. Even then, it can still be difficult for all seven members to be available at exactly the same time to take action on short notice, Gianneschi said.
Use of email voting would be limited to routine items that sometimes come up between regularly scheduled meetings and that require board action in a timely manner, he said.
One example was a residence-hall food-service contract for $300,000 that needed to be approved last summer before the next regular meeting so that the vendor could make an order.
An email meeting would not be the first choice in that circumstance, Gianneschi added, but would “be another tool in our toolbox” to get things done.
The email provision is part of a broader bill that also would formally change the name of special college districts from “local district junior college” to “local district college.”
It also would allow service areas that lie outside district boundaries to join the district, even if the area is not contiguous, Gianneschi said.
“As we were looking at this, we wanted to include any other operational matters that could streamline some of the work we do,” he said. “Part of that was how we might use technology in a way to allow us to conform to the expectations of the Open Meetings Law, or even exceed it.”
Gianneschi said it’s now possible to host an electronic discussion and vote on the college’s website, and make it real-time so that any member of the public could observe.
“The law says a meeting must not be done in private, and we certainly want to find every possible solution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Instead of trying to round up a quorum of four board members to be available for a telephone conference meeting at a certain time, email voting would allow all seven members a longer window of time to weigh in.
CMC has been in touch with the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition to ask for their input.
Jeffrey Roberts, executive director for the CFOIC, said his organization has not taken a position on the bill. But it does represent a “real departure” away from a key provision of the Open Meetings Law, he said.
While it might make sense for a sprawling special district such as CMC to take action on certain items via email, Roberts said his concern would be if other public bodies want to do something similar.
“CMC does make an argument that it makes sense for them,” Roberts said. “But my question is why this is necessary when a conference call accomplishes the same thing.
“These discussions are still a matter of public business and it has to be done in front of the public,” Roberts added.
Under the proposed bill, the CMC board would be required to provide “full and timely notice” of the proposed action to be taken electronically, and allow for all seven board members and anyone from the public to object.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee on March 14.
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