Supreme Court to rule on Marble issue
December 22, 2007
MARBLE, Colo. ” The Colorado Supreme Court could soon issue a ruling about the Marble Town Board that sets a precedent for how government bodies must do business under the state’s Sunshine Laws.
Specifically at issue is what exactly must be posted on agendas for public meetings.
In 2004, a group of four citizens accused the Marble Town Board of violating open meeting laws by allegedly failing to post an adequate description of an agenda item. To some people’s dissatisfaction, a vote was cast not to locate a permanent structure in a town park.
“This case could say for the first time really clearly what public bodies have to do by the way of agendas,” said Luke Danielson, a Gunnison attorney representing the group of citizens.
The structure would have included a full-sized replica of the Tomb of the Unknowns monument, which is in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The original, obtained from the Yule Marble Quarry near Marble, has cracked and the idea was raised of replacing it. Two replicas were to be created in case one cracked while being transported. If it didn’t, some thought it would be a good idea to locate the extra replica in the Mill Site Park as a historic attraction.
According to a National Public Radio report on Nov. 11, a decision on whether to replace or repair the monument in Arlington has stalled and Congress was looking into the matter.
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As for the Mill Site Park proposal, “it turned into an extremely divisive local issue,” Danielson said. “When things get really ugly, a small town is much worse than a big city.”
He said there were nasty signs popping up around town, shouting matches, and at least one town meeting where more people attended than there were registered voters in Marble.
The group sued the town board in 2004 and lost in district court, but the outcome was reversed in favor of the citizens by the Colorado Court of Appeals in November 2006. The town board then appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on the matter Oct. 23.
Marble’s leaders and citizens aren’t the only ones involved.
The Colorado Press Association and a group called Common Cause filed documents supporting Danielson’s position, while the Colorado Municipal League filed documents supporting Marble’s position. Common Cause is based in Washington, D.C., and says it’s a nonprofit that advocates for an open and accountable government.
Danielson said he can’t be sure, but anticipates the Colorado Supreme Court may rule this Monday or in the following weeks.
“Our point is, if (the town board) wanted to talk about this issue it would be possible to say, ‘Let’s put out a notice for the next meeting that this is going to be on the agenda,'” Danielson said. “Basically there wasn’t any urgent reason they had to make a decision that night. They easily could have put it off until another meeting. Our view is the reason they didn’t is because frankly they didn’t want to have a room full of citizens staring them in the face while they voted.”
He said the town board had created a committee to gather public input on the decision, and the committee was originally scheduled to meet after the vote was taken.
Marble Town Attorney Sherry Caloia advised the town board at the time to rescind the vote, put out additional notice, and vote again. But it didn’t happen.
Caloia said her recommendation was not because the item was inadequately described on the agenda. She said she told the board that if people are threatening to sue, the easiest and most financially prudent thing to do would be to rescind and vote again after additional notice.
Caloia said the item was on the agenda as “Mill Site update,” and anyone who was interested in the topic would have known what it was about and could have attended the meeting. The open meetings statute doesn’t say you have to put off an item and redo it if it’s especially controversial, she added.
“There really was no intent to pull one over on the citizens,” she said. “The town board discussed this at an open meeting, and they realized at that open meeting that they all agreed there should be no permanent structures in the park.”