City council members raise concern about Triple Crown meetings
Steamboat Springs — A series of one-on-one meetings between Steamboat Springs City Council members and the head of the city’s parks and community services department to discuss the status of a Triple Crown contract were cancelled last week after two council members expressed concern the meetings could violate open meetings laws.
Council members Scott Ford and Sonja Macys said they felt the meetings, which were scheduled at the request of parks and community services director John Overstreet, constituted what are known as serial meetings.
Public bodies can potentially get into legal trouble if a series of private serial meetings are used to gain consensus on an issue, or if they are used to conduct public business out of the public eye.
Overstreet said he just wanted to update the council on the Triple Crown contract negotiations and fill members in on summer parks and recreation plans.
He is currently negotiating a new five-year contract with the popular baseball and softball tournament, and city staff is considering allowing games to be held at Emerald Park for the first time.
The use of Emerald fields has long been the subject of passionate public debates and discussions.
“I just wanted to update them and tell them we haven’t heard anything, and we are still waiting to hear from (Triple Crown) about their plans,” Overstreet said Wednesday. “In hindsight, I could have brought it up at a City Council meeting. That would have worked. But I was just thinking it may be better to bring it up during a one-on-one and also bring them up to speed on what’s going on in the department.”
Macys and Ford wanted the discussion about Triple Crown to happen in public.
Shortly after the council members expressed concern, Overstreet invited the Steamboat Today to attend the meetings, which were scheduled to begin Friday morning. They were then cancelled.
The council discussed the cancellation of the one-on-one meetings on Tuesday night with City Attorney Tony Lettunich.
Lettunich made it clear that he was not comfortable with council members meeting sequentially with a member of city staff to discuss public business at the city staff member’s request.
He also said he was uncomfortable with a series of downtown sidewalk tours that up to two council members at a time have been taking with city staff recently.
The meetings, which are related to the city’s proposal to fund millions of dollars of downtown improvements in an urban renewal area, were not posted or announced publicly.
In the past, Lettunich said, the city has announced and posted such tours as public meetings.
“Sometimes, it’s not really clear. It’s not really a litmus test, but if, all of a sudden, you feel you’re in a situation where you are all sequentially talking about public business, that should be a red flag and we should talk about it,” Lettunich told the council. “It’s a sliding scale. It’s not really clear, but I think we need to make an effort to have discussions about public discourse as public as possible.”
Lettunich said serial meetings usually do not result in lawsuits or court cases unless a decision is made as a result of such meetings.
In an email to council members, City Manager Deb Hinsvark wrote that “unfortunately, the safest harbor for the city related to ongoing, touch-base meetings with our parks and community services director is simply not to have them.”
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