Without Paonia Mayor Neal Schwieterman nor town attorney Jim Briscoe, the Paonia Town Council met in a special meeting last Friday morning. The plan by the mayor and town attorney was to have the mayor pro tem open the special meeting, have a trustee on the finance committee read a prepared statement about going into an executive session, adjourn to the private conference room to meet with auditor Peter Blair of Blair and Associates and then reconvene the public meeting and adjourn without any public announcement about findings from the 2011 audit.
The audit was then to be sent to the state auditor no later than the end of business Monday, Oct. 15, to meet the state's deadline.
Other than the prepared statement about why the council was going into executive session, none of the rest went according to the script, and as would be learned later, there appears to have been no real reason for a secret session to have been held. Only a line item figure about the amount of alleged fraud in 2011 and a line item on the cumulative total of alleged fraud in 2010 and 2011 is found in the audit.
Mayor Schwieterman was on the first day of his planned vacation and was not present. After being tracked down, attorney Briscoe said he was attending to an emergency. That meant he was not present to answer questions from the trustees who were skeptical that a secret session was necessary to discuss the 2011 audit done by Pete Blair.
Mayor pro tem Corinne Ferguson conducted the meeting and still retained her trustee voting rights.
Larry Wissbeck, trustee and finance committee member, read the prepared motion by Briscoe.
"We're calling an executive session for the discussion of specialized details of security arrangements or investigations under C.R.S. (Colorado Revised Statutes) Section 24-6-402 (4)(d)." Brian Ayers, the other member of the finance committee, seconded the motion.
Ferguson clarified that the motion was necessary because of the ongoing investigation and that the district attorney had requested the Town of Paonia not release the audit numbers until the audit was turned over to the state. "Part of the audit is specific to the investigation," Ferguson said.
"Has the investigation been turned over to the district attorney?" Ross King, trustee, asked. That was to happen on Wednesday, Oct. 10. As far as anyone on the council was aware, that did not happen.
"Even if the information had been turned over to the district attorney, it's still an investigation and can continue to be an open investigation up until the point of sentencing at a trial," Ferguson said.
"I think the state statutes still override the district attorney," Karen Fogg, local resident, said. "This is an audit and it is public information. I think it is totally illegal to call an executive session for this. None that I have talked to can understand why this is happening."
Based on her conversations with the mayor and town attorney, Ferguson responded, "The audit is public information at the point it is released to the state. Up until that point I don't exactly know the legality of it being open to the public."
Ferguson was told by the mayor, town attorney and police department that the district attorney had requested the 2011 audit not be released at this time.
"We want to see it before it goes to the state," Eric Goold, trustee, said. "I do want to go on record as being opposed to producing this information in executive session. I think it should be public."
Ayers said he also wondered why they had to discuss the audit in executive session. Ayers would later leave the special meeting to speak directly to Blair. When he was called back to the special meeting, Ayers said Blair would talk about the audit at that morning's public special meeting rather than in secret.
At that time, it was believed the 2011 audit would be released on Friday or Monday to the state auditor.
Ferguson confirmed that Monday was the state auditor's deadline to receive the 2011 audit.
"The part in the audit that relates directly to the alleged embezzlement from the town is an open investigation and that is a large part of the audit information and discussion that would be received, and that is . . . the open investigation and what needs to be done in an executive session," Ferguson said.
"We do not know if the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has handed over their final information to the district attorney. They were scheduled to meet on the 10th," Ferguson said. Then the district attorney was to go forward with charges. "But we don't know if that meeting happened."
Asked if the CBI had already received all the information from the 2011 audit, Ferguson believes that the town had provided their information, but Blair had not turned over his audit findings to CBI as of last Friday's special meeting.
When the motion was voted on, Ferguson, Amber Kleinman and Wissbeck were in favor of the executive session. King, Goold and Ayers were opposed. With the tie vote, the motion failed and the executive session could not happen.
King then made a motion to have the audit presented to the full town council. Goold seconded, and added that the absence of the mayor and town attorney was "deplorable."
Barbara Peterson, town clerk, requested a recess to consult with the attorney before the vote could take place. Peterson, who was not able to reach Briscoe, also spoke to Blair who said he could meet with the finance committee on Friday and come back to do a public presentation on the audit at the next regular town council meeting.
The special meeting was recessed at 9:26 a.m. and reconvened at 9:44 a.m.
Ferguson had been instructed to close the special meeting if anyone mentioned specific numbers pertaining to the investigation during an open discussion of the audit that day. "I am not as a council member able to understand the legal reasons the district attorney's office and our legal counsel would advise us to do that," Ferguson said.
"So you're basing your judgment simply because they advised us?" Goold asked.
"Absolutely," Ferguson said. "I will not do something I'm uncomfortable with that could possibly cause any [harm to the investigation]."
Ayers agreed with Ferguson. "I would follow the advice of the D.A. and Jim Briscoe our attorney."
The meeting was recessed at 9:50 a.m. to receive attorney Briscoe's phone call. It reconvened eight minutes later.
Ferguson relayed that Briscoe was on an emergency call and unavailable to come to town hall. He told Ferguson if information was released prior to the D.A.'s direction "it may or may not cause difficulty in getting an impartial jury . . . It can interfere with the release of their information during discovery."
The council was polled about receiving the 2011 audit in that public morning meeting. King, Goold and Wissbeck were in favor and Ferguson, Ayers and Kleinman were opposed. The tie vote led to the motion's failure.
Kleinman said she was in favor of the compromise to have Wissbeck and Ayers of the finance committee meet with auditor Blair and have the auditor back at the town council meeting on Oct. 23 so that more of the public could also be present. That was agreed upon, and the special meeting adjourned at 10:07.
On Monday, it was confirmed by Cindy Jones, finance officer, that Pete Blair had asked for and received an extension from the state auditor for delivery of the Town of Paonia's 2011 audit until Friday, Oct. 19. This was due to minor changes that had to be made. Jones was figuring out those changes on Monday afternoon.
It was confirmed by the office of the state auditor that when the audit is sent to the state it is a public document.
"Additional fraud amounts are reported in the audit," Wissbeck said on Monday after reviewing the audit last Friday. In his opinion, "There wasn't anything revealed in the audit that would compromise the investigation."blog comments powered by Disqus