Editorial: An about-face by Snowmass government
The town of Snowmass Village’s decision to discuss and vote on Gary Suiter’s consultant contract next month is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t have come to this in the first place.
On Tuesday, the Snowmass town attorney said Suiter’s deal would be added to the Town Council’s Feb. 3 agenda for a discussion and vote. But that move came after the editor of the Snowmass Sun began asking questions earlier in the day about the Snowmass Town Council’s decision to hire Suiter as a consultant, on a contract basis, behind closed doors.
It happened Jan. 21, when the Town Council approved a contract requiring Suiter — who initially had interviewed for the town manager’s post — to work a minimum of 138 hours per month, or approximately 32 hours per week. His monthly fee would be $17,250 as a contract consultant, and there would be no staffed town manager.
And just like that, this was a done deal. At the time, Snowmass elected officials even told the Sun, a sister paper of The Aspen Times, that the Town Council didn’t have to publicly approve the contract.
That mindset was disturbing on many fronts, including that rather than advocating transparent government, council members felt there was nothing wrong with doing the public’s business in private. In other words, the public didn’t have the right to hear about how the council voted on Suiter’s contract. And that raises ethical questions.
Then there was the legal side. The Colorado Sunshine Law states that “no formal action can occur at an executive session,” which is exactly what the Town Council did by approving Suiter’s contract last week.
We agree with the suggestion made by Colorado Press Association attorney Steven Zansberg — who also has handled open-records cases for The Aspen Times in the past — that the Snowmass Village Town Council could rectify this by holding another meeting in public. And, on Tuesday afternoon, the town decided to do just that.
Discussing Suiter’s deal in public is the right thing to do. But the timing of this decision makes us wonder if it was done to stave off public pressure or a legal challenge rather than a sincere showing of government transparency.
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