Keeping secrets |

Keeping secrets

City councilors have mixed opinions on appointment process

Christina M. Currie

The Craig City Council will stand behind the secret ballot vote members took Sept. 24 to appoint a seventh member to the local governing body.

The council voted 3-2-1 to appoint business owner Billy Bingham to the seat vacated when Councilor Natalie Alden resigned.

The other applicants were Tracy Caddy and Liane Davis-Kling.

Though the vote was taken in an open meeting, it was done by secret ballot, which Colorado Press Association attorney Tom Kelly said violates the intent of the Open Meetings Act, passed in 1996 to insure that public bodies can be held accountable for their actions.

By taking their vote in secret, Kelly said, the public wasn’t given the opportunity to hold the council accountable.

“The open meetings law means nothing if you don’t get to witness the vote and know how people voted,” he said. “A court isn’t going to need express language.”

That lack of express language is the reason City Attorney Sherman Romney stands by the decision to keep individual votes secret.

“I’ve decided in my mind, since we haven’t found anything concrete, we’re not going to do anything on this vote,” he said.

The city will look at the procedure in the future, though, he said.

“It’s not stated that we violated any particular law,” he said. “We’ve done it this way for a number of years.”

Kelly said he couldn’t think of any other board in Colorado that’s ever appointed another member by secret ballot and said the city probably couldn’t cite an example either.

Kelly said his 30 years of experience regarding open meetings issues tell him the council’s vote was illegal.

“In any vote taken in public, doing it by secret ballot would defeat the purpose of open meetings laws and a court is not going to stand for that,” Kelly said. “Their violating at least one reasonable interpretation of the language, which is that the final decision must be made in public and if one cannot know how the vote went, on cannot know how they voted.”

Romney said he would leave it to each city council member to decide whether they wanted to disclose publicly how they voted.

Councilor Kent Nielson was the only board member who made his decision public following the meeting. He said he voted for Caddy.

Mayor Dave DeRose and Councilors Don Jones, Carl Chapman and Tom Gilchrist would not.

“I see no problem with (secret ballots),” DeRose said. “That’s how we’ve done it for the past eight years, I don’t see why we should change it now. I think it’s a moral issue to make such a big deal about it.”

Jones also supports the decision to keep the votes private.

“I don’t come to you at the polls and ask you who you voted for. What’s the difference?” he said.

Councilor Bill Johnston said the difference is that the city council is supposed to be voting for those they represent not themselves.

Johnston, who was unavailable for comment following the vote, said Tuesday he would be proud to share his vote with the public.

“I voted for the most qualified candidate,” he said.

Johnston, who cast his vote for high school government teacher Davis-Kling, said he has concerns about the process used.

“I think we should do that (vote) out loud,” he said. “When you have a public interview process, you have a lot of people hearing the candidates and making up their own minds. And when the vote comes up and a candidate is selected, you’d like to hear the reasons your public servant chose them because you’d like to compare your public servant’s vote with your own opinion.

“I’m supposed to be representing the citizens of Craig every time I vote for every item. I’m not voting for me, I’m voting for the citizens of Craig.”

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