City attorney disagrees with claims council violated open meetings law
August 14, 2015
Steamboat Springs — City Attorney Tony Lettunich disagrees with claims the Steamboat Springs City Council recently violated the state’s open meetings laws.
After receiving a letter from Steamboat Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman Thursday, which expressed concerns about recent executive sessions the council had held, Lettunich said the city had not broken any rules.
Even so, he decided to make the public notice announcing a future executive session about a possible separation agreement with the city manager more detailed and specific than it was originally.
During recent executive sessions held to discuss City Manager Deb Hinsvark’s work performance and a possible separation agreement, the council has convened the sessions by saying only that it intended to discuss “personnel matters.”
Attorney Chris Beall, who has previously represented Steamboat Today in cases involving the state’s sunshine laws, said the council has not been specific enough about announcing the purposes of these recent executive sessions before convening them at meetings.
The open meetings law requires councils to, not only state the statutory basis for the meeting, but also to stipulate the “particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible without undermining the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.”
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Lettunich said the city is not obligated to name the person who is the subject of an executive session or provide the purpose of the meeting beyond that it is being held to discuss a “personnel matter.”
“I am aware that the newspaper feels that all of this information should be public, but the city has an obligation to protect the privacy rights and liberty interests of its employees, and therefore would prefer not to subject them to inappropriate scrutiny,” Lettunich said.
The newspaper also raised concerns about the council’s decision on Aug. 4 to seek a possible separation agreement with Hinsvark while behind closed doors.
Beall said Wednesday the law prohibits a public body from “adopting any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule regulation or formal action” while behind closed doors.
“If the Steamboat Springs CIty Council came to a consensus on the policy of seeking a separation agreement with the city manager, such as an adoption of a proposed policy is something that may only be done in public, rather than behind closed doors during an executive session,” Beall wrote.
Lettunich disagreed with that assessment, saying the law allows a council to determine positions “relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations, developing strategy for negotiations and instructing negotiators.”
“The City Council instructed me, as their negotiator, to discuss the terms of a severance and release agreement, including financial terms,” Lettunich wrote.
Lettunich said information about the Aug. 4 executive session had been “unethically released and used by the newspaper.”
“Therefore, much of the desired confidentiality of the executive session has been lost,” Lettunich wrote.
Council members had been tight-lipped about what occurred at the executive session until an email leaked by a community member showed that negotiations with Hinsvark were taking place.