Amid allegations by a small group of citizens that the Town of Paonia was breaking Colorado's Open Meeting Law, the mayor of Paonia announced at the Nov. 12 council meeting that only he and staff will be allowed to attend staff meetings. Trustees had formerly been invited, but not required, to attend the staff meetings to gain more understanding and knowledge from the staff on projects.
Depending upon one's understanding of the meaning of the Open Meetings Law the town was either in violation or within its rights to have its trustees attend the staff meeting. The trustees did not vote or decide issues at the staff meeting. They were for information gathering only. Staff meetings were also not considered trustee work sessions.
"We've been conducting staff meetings at the town for as long as we haven't had a town manager," Mayor Neal Schwieterman said. "At the last staff meeting, Mr. [Charles] Stewart came by and suggested the agenda that was posted was not specific enough, and that it has been his opinion it was illegal." The mayor asked the town attorney Jim Briscoe for his opinion.
"Staff meetings are used to discuss what the staff of the town wish to either discuss among themselves or get some direction from ... the mayor," Briscoe said. "I think any time you start having staff meetings that involve the whole council you are just evolving into a micro-management situation that's counterproductive. The state's Open Meetings Law does not require specific public meetings or agendas for staff meetings. It does require notice of public meetings when more than two public trustees might be in attendance or a quorum of that public body would be in attendance. Since there is no decision-making at a staff meeting from the standpoint of council decisions, I don't think an agenda is required. But I did at a previous occasion suggest to satisfy curiosity of the public, that you could post a general agenda."
Briscoe stated the staff meetings should be just the staff and the mayor. If an issue arises during the staff meeting that needs the council's involvement, the mayor should take it to the proper council committee or to the whole council.
Mayor Schwieterman then announced that from then on only he and the staff would meet.
"I find that unfortunate because what council members have done is avail themselves of the opportunity to learn more about the town. And I think that is very useful. But if there is the perception the town is doing something underhanded, we'll abide by that perception, and move forward with staff only," Schwieterman said.
Charles Stewart, an attorney, then responded that "the board of trustees were having, what I call, significant discussions about major issues that affect the town. And while there was no decision being made, no vote being taken, there was extensive discussion about significant issues. Those [staff] meetings are held at 10 o'clock on Friday morning with no agenda." He said the townspeople had no idea of what was being discussed on Friday mornings. He said an agenda should be posted whenever three trustees or more are present — it doesn't matter if decisions will be made made or not. "The public has a right to know what is going to be discussed at those meetings," Stewart said.
The mayor responded that sometimes at staff meetings things would come up right before the meeting and there would be no time to add them to the agenda 24-hours in advance. "So the unfortunate side effect is those discussions simply end. And the ability for our council members to have more nuanced discussions about those is greatly diminished."
Stewart added, "There's nothing to prevent a trustee from talking to staff members of the town."
The mayor replied, "It's very inefficient with staff member's time to have six different meetings with the six different council members. They effectively would not achieve much of their goals in producing work."
Trustee Eric Goold said, "I would say Mr. Stewart I have been coming to the staff meetings for the last two years. I think I may have missed three of them in that time. Every single one of them with the exception of one had an agenda. The people can know. It's posted on the door ... All you've done is make our job a lot harder. Thank you very much."
Trustee Ross King said, "Mr. Mayor I respect your decision, and I certainly understand where it is coming from. I think it is going to be much more [inaudible]." Charles Stewart interrupted and said, "Well I apologize for asking the board to comply with the law."
Briscoe responded, "I disagree that you are requiring that, requesting that. You mentioned that three or more trustees requires an agenda, and that is not what the Open Meetings Law says. It says that 'any meetings at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum are in attendance ..." Stewart interrupted again.
King then continued, "I found it very productive to be able to sit down with our staff on a weekly basis and just talk about the issues and concerns."blog comments powered by Disqus