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Paonia council reviews roles of committee, work sessions

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At the May 10 meeting, Paonia Mayor Charles Stewart announced the assignment of trustees on the newly-seated board to town committees: Trustees-elect Karen Budinger and William Bear will serve on the Finance and Personnel committee, Mayor Pro Tempore David Bradford and Bear will serve on Public Works, Budinger and Suzanne Watson were assigned to Governmental Affairs, Bradford and trustee-elect Bill Brunner will serve on Services and Recreation, newly-appointed trustee Chelsea Bookout and Watson are on Facilities and Development.

Prior to the announcement, all but one of eight items of consideration requested by Brunner were stricken from the agenda, since they will be addressed during trustee training. Sessions, which began Tuesday, are open to the public, but will not include public comment time. Two items, review and update of the 2016 budget and pending legal actions against the town, were on the May 10 agenda.

Brunner said he believes newly elected trustees need to get up to speed on the items. "If you want to eliminate them tonight, that's fine," said Brunner. "I just wanted to raise the issues."

In discussion of the remaining item, Brunner requested a change to the makeup of town committees, currently limited to two sitting trustees, to include a third trustee and an appointed member of the public. He also urged the board to encourage attendance by all trustees, and to open all meetings to the public.

Brunner said he doesn't understand why board members are barred from attending meetings other than for committees on which they serve. While attendance by a third trustee would put meetings in the public meeting category, the "burden" to the town is small, said Brunner, requiring posting of notice 24 hours in advance and recording of minutes.

Stewart explained that committee meetings are open to the public, but if three trustees plan to attend, per state statute, the town would need to provide 24-hour notice, create an agenda, and record minutes. The finance committee alone, said Stewart, meets four times a month, and sometimes on the spur of the moment.

Town manager Jane Berry stated that meetings often require attendance by town staff. With five committees meeting at least monthly, that would pose excessive burden on an already overburdened town staff. "It's really not a workable scenario."

Brunner brought up the embezzlement of more than a half million dollars from town coffers, stating that during the years it occurred, the two-person committee overseeing town finances wasn't doing it's job.

"It was the entire board that bore some responsibility," said mayor pro tem David Bradford. He added that "the mechanism for dealing with tough issues is the work session."

Berry responded that all of the measures recently put in place to prevent future theft or misuse of town funds were not in place at the time of the embezzlement. Today, significant oversight with numerous sets of eyes examine every transaction, she said.

"I think it would be incredibly beneficial to the community to have members be able to come to meetings," said Mary Bachran, who ran for the board in April. She said it's not uncommon for an issue to be on an agenda with little background information available to the public. She said she is interested in attending committee meetings and urged the town to post notices on the town website. "The public can't attend the meetings if they don't know when they are," said Bachran.

Work sessions, generally held immediately prior to board meetings, are an excellent idea, but must come from the board, said Berry. In addition, town policy now requires that work sessions be posted and minutes be taken. If the board wants to learn more about the issues that will come before them, said Berry, "Please, ask for a work session."

Brunner said he appreciates the discussion and urged more work sessions in the future.

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