Our view: Open the door council
At issue:In the past year, the Steamboat Springs City Council has held 13 executive sessions.
Our view:If the council is serious about conducting city business openly and transparently, it needs to break the habit of holding closed-door meetings in the new year.
If the Steamboat Springs City Council is making New Year’s resolutions for 2017, we hope a pledge to meet less often in executive session tops that list.
Thanks to some digging by Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Scott Franz, we learned that the current Steamboat Springs City Council, as of Dec. 19, 2016, has held 13 closed sessions since November 2015, which is more than any other city council in recent history. In fact, you have to go back a decade to 2005 to find a council that met behind closed doors more often.
Meeting records reveal that 42 percent of the council’s regular meetings have involved executive sessions, and if you add work sessions to the mix, 30 percent of council meetings have included closed-door sessions.
By comparison, the Steamboat Springs School Board has met behind closed doors at a fifth of its monthly meetings, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners meets in executive session only about four times a year to receive updates from its attorney.
As advocates for open government, we find the number of executive sessions held this year by the city council concerning, especially for a group that has made improving community trust a top priority. It’s hard to convince members of the public you’re committed to open and transparent government when you’re discussing city business outside of the public’s view.
Let’s be clear — executive sessions are allowed under the Colorado Sunshine Law for specific purposes, such as real estate negotiations and personnel matters, but we believe a vast majority of government business can and should be conducted publicly in open session. Members of the public deserve to know the facts and factors involved in how their elected officials are making decisions, especially when those decisions involve taxpayers money.
Meeting behind closed doors, out of the light of the public eye, is not the best way to conduct city business, and for this council to hold so many executive sessions in one year seems to contradict the promises made by many of the current council members who campaigned on platforms that called for more government transparency.
We understand there are certain subjects that must be handled in executive session, but in those cases, it’s important that the council offer a clear explanation, based on statute, for why the closed-door meeting is necessary. It also should be noted that the city council cannot adopt any rule, regulation, policy, position or formal action at any meeting closed to the public.
Votes and formal action must be taken in open session, and we would suggest if action is taken following an executive session, the council should be ready to answer questions and offer detailed information on how they came to their decision since the public was not privy to the discussion itself.
Several times this year, individual council members have disagreed over whether or not they should discuss a certain topic in executive session, and in those incidences, council members advocating for holding the discussion in public were on the losing side of the vote.
We strongly encourage the council to reverse that trend and instead err on the side of more open and transparent government by limiting the number of executive sessions it calls in 2017.
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