Paonia citizens must demand accountability

By Bill Brunner


Dear Editor:

This is my account of the issues behind the recent discord at Paonia Town Council meetings. Earlier this year the town reached an agreement with the residents of Hawk's Haven over access and ownership of the gravel road, now closed to traffic, that should link Creek Vista with Pan American Avenue. Negotiations about that road were carried out with the involvement of a group of three elected officials who excluded the rest of the board from the process. I believe this constituted a material violation of the state's open meetings law.

After attempts failed to have the rest of the board let in on what had transpired, I made a request, under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) for relevant emails. Some were produced, other emails acknowledged but withheld and others not acknowledged at all. Next, as a trustee, I demanded to see the emails acknowledged but withheld from the CORA release. These were disclosed to the board in an executive session on April 25. After seeing these emails my opinion is that the only reason some of them were withheld is that they are evidence of meetings in violation of the open meetings law.

When confronted with the disclosure of this evidence, those involved did not apologize or show the slightest humility. It seemed to me they got a little mean. If I "made a big deal out of this," Mayor Stewart threatened to retaliate against me by releasing emails from me he hoped I would find embarrassing. When I indicated I looked forward to discussing the contents of those emails in public, he responded with a threat to subpoena my personal email account, which implies an expensive lawsuit against me, presumably by the town. I believe these threats constitute an improper attempt to intimidate me into dropping my inquiry into town business conducted in secret by a subgroup group of trustees, and, in my opinion, subsequent violations of the Open Records Act by refusal to acknowledge and release evidence.

During that executive session a male trustee made a physical lunge and unleashed a verbal barrage at a female trustee. It is attempts to have this behavior acknowledged and dealt with by the board that has been the immediate source of the recent conflict. Mayor Stewart has made a ruling to the effect that since a complaint was not lodged and dealt with at the moment those abuses occurred in executive session, they can never be dealt with, period. This is absurd. The law allowing executive session specifically forbids discussion and discipline of elected officials in secret. Unfortunately, a majority of the board has voted to uphold his ruling. By misuse of the rules the board operates under, the perpetrators have voted themselves an exemption from accountability. Unless citizens stand up and demand that accountability, they will get away with it.

Bill Brunner
Paonia Trustee