Counties settle in `Sunshine Law’ case
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit brought against the five-county Rural Resort Region, accusing the organization of violating the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
Aspen City Councilman Terry Paulson and Aspen resident Mike McGarry, as part of Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, along with four other state residents, filed the lawsuit in March 2002.
The lawsuit arose from an annual summit of the Rural Resort Region in September 2001 that was held in Snowmass Village to discuss liberalizing immigration laws.
When Paulson discovered that there was a $75 to $100 fee to attend the meeting, he charged the group with violating the state’s open meetings law, also known as the Sunshine Law.
The settlement, drawn up by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas Goodreid of Denver, requires that the defendants pay the plaintiff’s $11,400 in attorney fees. It also requires the Rural Resort Region to mail a statement to each summit attendee acknowledging that charging the admission fee discouraged attendance by members of the public who were opposed to efforts to liberalize existing immigration laws.
Finally, the statement mandates that any actions or proposals that were discussed at the summit will not be acted on without holding a future meeting of all five member county-governing boards that is in full compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
“That summit was nothing less than a Stalinist show trial,” McGarry said. “They packed the house with all their like-minded, made sure they all had their admission fees paid for by governmental, employer and foundation sources, and then told us to pay up or butt out, as if we would just walk away from an invitation to a good brawl. That’s pretty funny.”
During the summit, Paulson and McGarry contacted the state attorney general’s office, the American Civil Liberties Union and at least two private attorneys as they sought a court injunction in their quest to derail the immigration summit. Both said the $100 fee was too much for the general public to pay, and would discourage attendance.
In January 2002, the six plaintiffs filed their lawsuit against the Rural Resort Region and all five member boards of county commissioners – Pitkin Eagle, Lake, Summit and Garfield counties. The plaintiffs were seeking two injunctions: one that nullifies the proposed policy adopted at the summit and another that nullifies any decisions make by the steering committee.
They also sought reimbursement for the legal costs of the suit.
“We got everything we originally sought, and they paid our bills,” Paulson said. “Can’t ask for more than that. And if they try it again, we will do it all over again.”
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.