Troubling developments at City Hall
The subject of real or imagined secret meetings of governmental bodies has made headlines repeatedly in recent months. Mayor Ireland claims remembering a private meeting between Aspen City Council and Pitkin Board of County Commissioners for which there is no record, and that no BOCC member recalls, while council remains silent.
Lynn Burton of the Daily News has chronicled CMC’s hard-to-penetrate meeting. We’ve read that neither the Housing Frontiers or the Financial Advisory Board honor sunshine laws. The improper request for the public to leave last fall’s council planning meeting was reported by the press. But one unannounced casual meeting of two election commissioners which created an unintentional and technical violation garnered 10 times the publicity of all the other more substantive questions and infractions combined.
What remains unwritten is the most important story in the aftermath of May’s IRV election.
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Despite the outlandish claims of Jack Johnson, Mayor Ireland, Roger Marolt, Michael Conniff, and Pete Louras, the embattled election commission produced one of the most complete, expansive public records of any citizen board.
All e-mails between commissioners and significant e-mails with citizens are available public records, and select portions have been distributed. Far more records were produced than required by Colorado’s sunshine laws. Despite the many imagined “secret meetings” of the election commission, sometimes allegedly including me, factually, there was one unintentionally possibly improper “meeting” where two citizen bi-partisan commissioners alone discussed how to persuade a reluctant city staff to conduct a formal meeting. That one technical violation, ironically to promote a public meeting, embodies the entire substance behind the damning character assassinations.
The personal attacks abounded against only the two volunteer commissioners and me. False accusations, some echoed by the mayor, were made on the city’s public record. Former Councilman Johnson repeatedly trumpeted vague allegations of supposedly conspiratorial secret meetings and nefarious plots. Council then surprisingly moved to impede any independent investigation of May’s election by putting the commission’s role in limbo. Council failed to allow the commissioners to answer charges of impropriety. Instead they prematurely sought two replacement commissioners negating an intended tenure until mid-2011. Their action was taken in a rushed decision, ironically behind closed doors, without public debate or input from the accused.
When the full story of the May election and its irregularities is written, the malicious claims against the election commission and their resulting termination of duties will not make Aspen proud.
Imagine the outcry if Ireland and his supporters chose to seek impeachment of the BOCC for failing to document alleged secret meetings that only Ireland and Barwick recall. Consider the damage if the press and civic leaders never sought the facts but merely engaged in a witch hunt after accepting Ireland’s statement as proof enough to convict the BOCC in the court of public opinion.
I believe there are lessons in the recent dust-ups over sunshine laws. Imagined secret meetings and false allegations of noncompliance should not be weapons to discredit individuals serving the public. The use of executive sessions should be judicious, narrowly defined and monitored by the press. Serious violations of legal due process and the success of a smear campaign targeting two election commissioners should become a concern of every citizen in Aspen.
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