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Citizens engage council about court, communication

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Photo by Tamie Meck A Delta County Sheriff's Deputy guards town clerk Cally Gallegos at the July 6 council meeting at Crawford Town Hall after Gallegos was granted a temporary protection order against Crawford resident Carl Page after a request for infor

The "public non-agenda items" portion of the Crawford Town Council's July 6 meeting made up most of the discussion. Crawford resident Carl Page exercised his First Amendment rights by presenting council with a petition opposing a municipal court that is currently under consideration by the town. Of the petition's 84 signatories, Page noted that all are either registered voters, work, own property or do business in the town.

"We'll accept it and have it reviewed by our legal council," said Mayor Wanda Gofforth in accepting the petition from Page. "We'll be notifying you by letter."

A letter by Page regarding his opposition to the court and harshly criticizing the town council was published in the June 29 edition of the DCI. Page was also one of three citizens who submitted a petition in January, 2014, to recall then-mayor Susie Steckel.

The issue of creating a municipal court in Crawford is ongoing and was one of the main issues in last April's election, in which Page was a candidate for council and was opposed on the grounds that the town can't afford a municipal court. The court was supported by Steckel. Gofforth and candidate John Paton, a retired law enforcement/corrections officer have stated support for a court.

Trustee Chriss Watters stated at the meeting that he personally opposes creation of a court, but that he represents the people. "If they say 'yes,' that's the way I'll go with it," said Watters. The signature of council member Tammy Broughton, who did not attend the meeting, is on the petition.

Crawford resident Jay Ziegler, who also signed the petition and ran for council, asked council for clarification on whether the money from the proposed mill levy increase will pay for the court.

Gofforth replied that the two issues are separate, and that a mill levy increase, which must be approved by voters, would help cover revenue losses due to cutbacks in coalmining activities. Delta County municipalities are all experiencing drastic declines in revenue due to the cutbacks. "Our mineral leasing and our severance is going to go to the bottom," said Gofforth.

If the additional funds from a mill levy increase won't fund the court, asked Ziegler, "Then how will the court be paid for?"

"It's in the discussion phase," said Gofforth. "We don't have all of those numbers together yet."

When asked by Page if the town is required to put the court to a referendum, Gofforth answered, "No."

Whether it's put to a vote or not, said Gofforth, a public hearing will be held at a later date and the public will be allowed to comment.

Page then asked for clarification about whether the CML makes statutory law. "No," replied public works director Bruce Bair. "They can inform you what that law is."

"The legislature in Denver is the only thing that could make statutory law," along with the federal government, said Gofforth.

Page, against whom Town Clerk Cally Gallegos filed a protective order in Delta County Court on June 30 (see related story), asked, "What is the best way for the public to contact the (council) members individually or as a group?"

"You go through the 'townofcrawford@tds.net.' That will be the e-mail," said Mayor Gofforth. "You can go to our website and send it through there." She suggested Page do an internet search for Crawford, Colorado.

"And you're able to contact individual members at that site?" asked Page.

"No, it goes through the Town of Crawford. It will go directly into the Town of Crawford," said Gofforth. "We do not give out our private e-mails."

Is there a box system that allows the public to send directly to a town staff member or trustee, asked Page.

"You can state right in your e-mail who you would like this to go to, and then (town clerk) Cally (Gallegos) can forward it to us," replied Gofforth. (Since Town Hall is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, anyone wishing to contact a representative through e-mail may have to wait several days.)

Ziegler said he wanted to thank Bair for diverting runoff water from the July 1 rains away from his house. He said Bair was "without gloves, digging through my debris trying to keep the floodwater out of my home," said Ziegler. "So thank you. I really appreciate that."

Ziegler urged council to spend money that might otherwise be spent on a court to help improve drainage problems, minimize flood risks and improve public safety. In the April election Ziegler promised voters a safe place for school kids to wait for the school bus, and that the area at the intersections of I and Elm streets and Highway 92, near where he lives, has no shoulder, sidewalk or bike lanes. He offered to allow a sidewalk to be built along his property.

"The kids are walking on the highway to their school bus stop, to and from," said Ziegler.

Council also approved a liquor license renewal for the Old Mad Dog Cafe, which was supported by the Delta County Sheriff's Office, and postponed scheduling of a Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) meeting, since Broughton was absent.

Item No. three on the July 6 agenda was for "Executive Session to discuss Employee handbook."

Mayor Gofforth called for a motion to go into executive session "for some personnel matters. So if I could get a... a motion stating that we need to go into executive session for personnel matters, then we can go ahead."

"Let's go into executive session," said Trustee Paton.

"Is that a motion," asked town clerk Cally Gallegos, who was recording the minutes.

"Yep," said councilor Paton.

Trustee Hetty Todd seconded the motion, and trustees all voted in favor.

The Colorado Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Laws, as defined by Colorado Revised Statutes C.R.S. 24-6-401, specifies rules for executive sessions, including the reasons a local public body may vote to enter into executive session. They include, but aren't limited to:

• Matters of which federal law require be kept confidential, including confidential records;

• Attorney conference;

• Certain negotiations;

• Discussion of personnel issues.

And while personnel issues are a valid reason for a council or board to enter into an executive session, the person or persons about whom the discussion is focused is allowed to request that the meeting be held in public. This was not specified or addressed by council. In addition, a town's employee handbook is considered a public document, and therefore does not qualify for discussion in executive session. No mention was made by council as to why the agenda cited the employee handbook in notifying the public of the executive session.

In addition, the topic for the executive session must be disclosed in the motion to enter into an executive session without compromising the reason for the executive session, must be announced to the public, and the legal basis, including the specific provision of the statute that authorizes the session, must be citied in advance. Executive session discussion must include only the topic of discussion.

In this case, council failed to make the appropriate motion. The minutes to an executive session are not, under state statute, available to the public. In addition, no formal action may be made in an executive session or closed meeting. According to Town Clerk Cally Gallegos, no action was taken following the executive session.

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