The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners is drafting a resolution to formalize its meetings policy and notice procedures. During the regularly scheduled work session on Jan. 21, the three members of the BOCC discussed provisions for a …
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The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners is drafting a resolution to formalize its meetings policy and notice procedures. During the regularly scheduled work session on Jan. 21, the three members of the BOCC discussed provisions for a proposed policy designed to standardize the meetings-notification process.
The action comes on the heels of a string of allegations during the past two months by planning commission member Rick Brown and some members of the public who have asserted that the BOCC was holding meetings without proper public notice, and was therefore in violation of Colorado Sunshine statues.
The issue came to a head when Commissioner Larry Ross, District 3, chose not attend the meeting scheduled for Monday morning, Jan. 5 that included a planned update from a county staff member regarding the progress of the proposed bylaws under development by the planning commission. Ross felt the meeting was not properly noticed.
County Attorney Wade Gateley said that the Sunshine statue allows for the day-to-day oversight of property and employees, and the purpose of the Monday morning meetings is to discuss those topics as well as address issues, such as snowstorms, that come up over the weekend.
“For the weekly and as-needed meetings, the statute exempts those meetings from any notice requirements,” Gateley said. “It exempts those meetings from any agenda requirements. It exempts those meetings from any minutes requirements.”
Gateley went on to say that, when two elected officials meet it constitutes a public meeting, and the public is welcome to observe.
“The important distinction here is that for work sessions and employee supervision, no adoption of any formal policy or no formal decision can take place,” Gateley said. “In order to make sure we go the extra mile, to make sure we are trying to let the public know, we will post notices of work sessions.”
The Monday-morning meetings, often referred to as study sessions or work sessions by the BOCC and county staff, have been a long-standing practice. The meetings routinely take place in the BOCC's meeting room at 9 a.m. on Monday mornings and following BOCC meetings. The sessions are open to the public.
A general notice of the sessions had been posted on a bulletin board in the County Administration Building (the old courthouse). However, at some point before or immediately after the Jan. 5 meeting, the notice disappeared. It is unknown whether the notice fell off the board or was removed. The BOCC's proposed meetings policy now includes a provision for a locked bulletin board to replace the old one.
The proposed policy is also expected to designate the new bulletin board, inside the main entrance to the County Administration Building, as the official place of posting for meetings and agendas. The proposed meetings policy also identifies the county's website as an alternate site for notification, but because of possible electronic disruption, the Internet posting will not be the official one.
In addition, anyone interested in receiving emailed notices may request to be added to the county's distribution list. After two years, addresses will be removed from the list unless the individuals renew their request with the clerk to the BOCC.
Robert Rowland, District 1 commissioner, maintains that the BOCC has been in compliance with the provisions of the Sunshine statute, but the county would go beyond the minimum provision in the law to keep residents informed. He also emphasized that the BOCC must be diligent in policing itself if discussions wander from employee matters or agenda items into unnoticed public issues.
“The static line is making sure we meet the state statute, and I feel strongly that we have done that in good faith.” Rowland said. “It doesn't mean that people won't make mistakes, or things don't happen and postings fall off the board.”
Following the Jan. 21 session, Ross said he was satisfied with the overall provisions of the proposed meetings policy and stressed that the final version needs to be in compliance with state law.
The Sunshine statutes were passed in 1991 to prevent public officials from meeting in private to make decisions on public policies and then rubber-stamping those decisions at public meetings. The law requires notifications and/or agendas to be posted 24 hours prior to applicable meetings where public policy is discussed or decisions are made.
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