Lawsuit cites lack of transparency

By Staff Report


Delta County Citizen Report (DCCR), which describes itself as "an apolitical, nonprofit media organization reporting on Delta County government activities," filed suit last week against the Delta County Board of County Commissioners alleging violations of state statutes designed to promote transparency in government.

News of the lawsuit prompted county attorney John Baier to reiterate the county's stance that its budget and open meetings processes are in compliance with state statutes.

"We remain dedicated to transparency and to service to our citizens," he said in a written response. "Delta County has consistently been committed to effective, thorough and appropriate communication. As always, we continue to welcome meaningful discussions about how we can better communicate with the public."

Attorney Michael King with Gunnison Law and Mediation filed the complaint and motion for permanent injunction on behalf of DCCR. The suit alleges that routine practices of the Board of County Commissioners violate Sunshine Law and the Local Government Budget Law of Colorado.

A press release issued by DCCR last week outlines specific areas of concern, some of which have been addressed in letters to the editor from JoAnn Kalenak, administrator of DCCR's Facebook page. She also has a blog where she comments on county commissioner meetings, county projects, county development plans, county policies, and county budget and finance.

She cites the BoCC's procedure of posting agendas without complete access to the public for a full 24 hours; the board's failure to adopt a policy requiring public notice of meetings and final agendas on the county website; the regular procedure of changing the agendas less than 24 hours from the meetings, with the regular practice of doing it at the actual meeting; the use of a "Commissioner's Calendar of Events" as appropriate public meeting notice; refusal to acknowledge business meetings involving a quorum of county commissioners as public meetings; and lack of adequate detail in the posted agendas.

"Significant policymaking occurs during the Delta County board's unnoticed or improperly noticed meetings," the suit alleges. "The board has entered into agreements, developed policy and mandated letters of support for various

agencies, organizations and special interest groups all without public participation."

The suit also cites limited opportunities for public involvement and citizen participation in decision making, and cites a lack of transparency in the county budget.

Prior to filing suit, attorney King outlined some of the organization's complaints and asked for an arbitrated meeting to resolve the issues. According to DCCR, the board declined the request, which led to the civil action.

On Nov. 20, the board did respond to a 2.5-page formal complaint about how the county budget is prepared, answering every allegation on a point-by-point basis. The response has been posted to the county website.