From the editor: When the government meets in private, the community is left in the dark |

From the editor: When the government meets in private, the community is left in the dark

At the Summit Daily News, we like to think the First Amendment is first for a reason. Freedom of the press is meant to protect people.

Not only do we keep our communities informed about things that matter to them — covering everything from the kickoff of ski season to local elections — we also keep you informed about what’s happening in the public meetings of various boards and town councils.

One of the most important things we do as journalists is hold elected officials accountable. We think it’s important that you know the decisions they make, how those decisions came to be made and how they affect you.

Journalism is essential at every level of government and in every community, including ours. We hope you agree.

That’s why we care about what happened in Breckenridge behind closed doors earlier this month.

Breckenridge Town Council shot down a proposal to relocate the town’s transit center and build workforce housing. And they did it illegally.

Following a presentation by the developer, the council moved into executive session, or a private meting, to discuss negotiations, which is allowed under the Colorado Open Meetings Law. The problem is that the council spent no time at all discussing negotiations. Instead, members privately discussed the projects and then took an informal vote on them, which is not allowed.

“They violated the Open Meetings Law,” media attorney Steven D. Zansberg said the following day.

When pressed, town officials released a recording of the meeting, but they remain adamant they did nothing wrong.

There’s no question the decision-making process should have happened in public.

Community members and the developer deserve to know what questions were asked, what concerns were raised and how each council member felt about the proposed projects — all of which was discussed in private.

Releasing the recording of the private meeting was the right thing to do, and we’re confident the council didn’t intentionally do anything wrong. Elected officials run for office because they want to serve their communities, just as journalists do.

But the council did make a mistake, and it should acknowledge that and assure constituents that it won’t happen again.

We deserve their transparency, and they are legally obligated to provide it.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened

On Nov. 3, Breckenridge Town Council held a special meeting to hear a proposal by Breckenridge Grand Vacations to relocate the transit center farther west toward Park Avenue and construct a workforce housing project on the Gold Rush lot.

Breckenridge Grand Vacations CEO and co-owner Mike Dudick brought the proposal to the council to get direction on whether it would support the two items before he submitted the development plan to the planning commission to be vetted, according to a memo written by Breckenridge Community Development Director Mark Truckey.

After Dudick presented his plan at the public meeting, the council announced it would move into executive session, or a private meeting, to discuss negotiations. Instead, the council members used the executive session to ask questions of town staff and privately voice their opinions. Immediately upon returning to the public meeting, Mayor Eric Mamula announced the council was not interested in either of the two proposals.

While entering an executive session to discuss ongoing negotiations is allowed, the Colorado Open Meetings Law prohibits any type of decision-making, informal or otherwise, behind closed doors.

“The town of Breckenridge feels strongly that the Town Council operated within the executive session rules,” Assistant Town Manager Shannon Haynes wrote in an email Nov. 9, citing the Colorado Open Meetings Law, which states an executive session is permitted for the purpose of “determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations.”

Media attorney Steven D. Zansberg said the town’s explanation doesn’t hold water.

Because the Summit Daily and town of Breckenridge are citing the same section of the law, the dispute comes down to the actual facts of what was discussed at the private meeting, Zansberg explained.

“It was not a meeting to instruct its negotiators about what position they should take in any negotiation, either presently or in the future,” Zansberg wrote.

Zansberg provided a prior court ruling from Larimer County that supports the position that the council’s actions behind closed doors were not legal.

On Friday, Nov. 13, Town Manager Rick Holman said he and town attorney Tim Berry had reviewed the court ruling.

“We both agree this case does provide us with some insight into how we will approach executive sessions dealing with negotiations in the future,” Holman wrote in an email, adding that he and Berry plan to discuss it with Town Council at its next work session Nov. 24.

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