By Lucas Vader
At the conclusion of the regularly scheduled Orchard City board of trustees meeting on Oct. 14, Trustee Doug Keller suddenly resigned his seat on the board without any prior public indication that he planned on doing so.
His resignation, as stated by Keller himself, was effective as of the end of the meeting. His reasoning: he felt the board of trustees was not properly serving the residents of Orchard City.
“Included in the Constitution is the Bill of Rights and in those rights, it is clearly stated that all political power is vested in and derived from the people,” Keller read from his written letter of resignation during the trustee comments section at the end of the meeting. “All government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole. In my opinion, few, if any of us, has kept this part of our oath. We are in the habit of acting for the good of town hall but not the citizens which we should be serving.”
Keller’s accusations against the board as a whole included holding meetings which he called “clandestine,” as they are not publicly posted. In this, he said the board closes its citizens out, limiting them to three minutes of constituent time per month at regular meetings.
“When individuals do come forward to engage the board, they are met with indifference, disdain or even contempt,” Keller said.
Keller’s comments on “clandestine” meetings and board opinions of when residents of Orchard City should or shouldn’t be able to attend came from recent discussions amongst the board. Those discussions led to a vote on whether committee meetings, which are legally public, should be posted in order for residents to know when they are.
With that being said, as stated by Town Administrator Melissa Oelke, no laws were being broken by refraining from posting public meetings as long as no more than two town trustees are present. This is a state law under the Colorado Sunshine Law. The board could have made a choice to post all committee meetings, but it wouldn’t be legally required. Despite that, Keller claimed it was a disservice to their community to hold public meetings without notifying their citizens.
According to Oelke, however, if people call in to Town Hall to inquire about the next committee meeting of any given committee, she’ll let them know of the details.
While Keller had strongly vouched that they should be, Mayor Ken Volgamore argued that they should not. In the end, the board did vote in favor of leaving things they way they were and continuing to refrain from posting committee meetings. Only Keller and Trustee Jan Gage had voted to start posting them.
However, even after the vote, Keller continued to bring the matter up due to a quote from meeting minutes in May of 2018, which stated “General consensus of the Board was to post all committee meetings.” Despite this “general consensus,” the town didn’t start posting meetings afterward. Keller brought this up, to which Volgamore argued that, while there had been a general consensus at the time, there had never been a vote, meaning they were not bound to comply with said “general consensus.”
As explained in the DCI article “Orchard City trustee instigates further discussion on meaning of ‘general consensus,’” Keller continued to find issue with the fact that the board, in 2018, seemingly took the time to form a “general consensus” if it wasn’t going to hold any value.
In his resignation, Keller’s reference to “clandestine” meetings detailed these recent discussions.
In general, Keller claimed an overall lack of public transparency within the board. He stated that as of that time, no minutes of regular board meetings had been posted since May, meaning the results of the last four months-worth of meetings are not publicly accessible to residents. Keller’s claims were true, as the May meeting minutes were the latest published.
On this comment, Oelke said the next day that, in the wake of COVID-19 and other administrative things, the posting of the minutes had mistakenly been neglected. “I think with the [pandemic] and all of the other stuff, it just fell through the cracks,” Oelke said. She said Thursday morning that it would be an easy fix and the minutes would all be online by the end of the day, and that she hadn’t known they were missing until Keller brought it up on Wednesday.
“We are not even allowing our citizens to access current information in our meetings in a safe manner,” Keller said. “Our message to the public is this: ‘Trust us, we’re the government. We will tell you what you need to know.’ This does not sound like a message one would give a democratic society. We’d fit right in with Russia or China. We are merely a self-serving oligarchy.”
Keller concluded by stating that by remaining on the board, he was accepting complacency of his accusations on the board overall.
“I can no longer in good conscience support the repressive conduct of this body and I hereby resign on the adjournment of this meeting,” Keller said.
Oelke stated the next day that, to her knowledge, no town staff or trustees were aware that Keller had come to Wednesday’s meeting with a letter of resignation prepared, nor that he had ever wished to leave before the end of his term.
The Orchard City board of trustees now faces a trustee vacancy, for which Oelke described the procedure for filling.
“The board has 90 days to fill his position by appointment and if they don’t, then they have to hold a special election,” Oelke said.
With that, the Orchard City Town Hall will be taking letters of interest from Orchard City residents who are interested in filling the vacant seat. Those can be emailed to Oelke at finance.kaycee.net.