This week all three members of the Moffat County Commission were witnessed eating lunch at JW Snacks with commissioner-elect John Kinkaid. On the surface the lunch appeared to be in violation of Colorado Sunshine Laws. Though Sunshine Laws provide exceptions for certain gatherings — especially at the county level — we find it highly unlikely no conversations about county business took place at the luncheon. We also think it is politically irresponsible for this group — which has faced questions about transparency in the past — to put itself in such an easily avoidable difficult position.
On Tuesday all three members of the Moffat County Commission were witnessed eating lunch at JW Snacks with commissioner-elect John Kinkaid.
At best the luncheon could have been perceived as a chance or social gathering, at worst an unannounced public meeting.
Colorado Sunshine Laws are clear.
Meetings of a quorum — or enough of governing body to render a decision — must be posted “full and timely” in a formally designated public place 24 hours before said meeting, particularly if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss or take action on public business.
Colorado Revised Statutes do provide for certain exceptions to the law, including social and chance gatherings, and, at the county commissioner level, for meetings of day-to-day oversight of property or supervision of employees.
The hiring or firing of county employees, building a new courthouse or buying new equipment does not fall under the oversight exemption, according to CRS.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers elected to play the social gathering card citing Tuesday’s luncheon was motivated by nothing more than to celebrate the birthday of fellow commissioner Audrey Danner.
“It was a spur of the moment decision because we didn’t realize it was Audrey’s birthday, so we decided to take her out and treat her to lunch,” Mathers told the Craig Daily Press Tuesday. “It was innocent. We go to dinner together almost three times a week.”
Mathers continued to say the majority of Tuesday’s luncheon conversation focused on Gov. Mitt Romney losing the presidential election, and Kinkaid’s campaign and impending retirement from Craig Station.
Not one breath was spoken about official county business, Mathers said.
We concede that may be true, but in the court of law the burden of proof would fall on the county commissioners.
And although the Craig Daily Press has no desire to waste taxpayer money by dragging this particular incident through the court process, we find Mathers’ explanation of what transpired Tuesday highly improbable.
“What were they doing having lunch together in a public setting where it seems highly unlikely they weren’t discussing county business,” said Craig Daily Press and Colorado Press Association attorney Chris Beal. “Whether or not it was a violation of the open meetings law, it would be a politically unwise thing to do.”
This editorial board agrees, particularly considering the current commissioners have earned a reputation of governing under the mentality of “do as I say, not as I do.”
Here’s a short refresher.
A couple years ago the commission, along with the Craig City Council, was set to deliver the annual “State of the County” address to at an event that cost money to attend, a clear violation of Colorado Sunshine laws.
It was only after the Craig Daily Press and a group of residents called the commissioners out that a free, alternate presentation of the State of the County address was offered.
Last year it required the threat of a news story before Mathers, an elected county official, settled his outstanding property tax debt with the Moffat County assessor’s office.
This summer Gray was caught, but not cited for, burning trash on his property mere weeks after he not only voted in favor of, but also signed the resolution that put a ban on open burning in unincorporated Moffat County.
Most recently members of the Moffat County Tourism Association Board, of which Craig Daily Press Publisher Bryce Jacobson is the chairman, openly criticized the commissioners for barring them from participating in their own 2013 budget process.
We may never know if Tuesday’s lunch was staged out of ignorance, arrogance or innocence, but there is no doubt a disturbing trend has been taking place in Moffat County for some time.
We hope — and recommend — the incoming commissioners-elect distance themselves from similar behavior when they take office Jan. 8.