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City council must release minutes to improper secret meetings

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    News Media Update         COLORADO         Freedom of Information    

City council must release minutes to improper secret meetings

  • The minutes for two improperly closed city council sessions are public, a state appellate court has ruled.

Jan. 7, 2005 — The minutes of two meetings the Sterling City Council illegally convened in August 2002 must be released, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 30.

The case began when James Thomas, in his new role as city manager, began cutting the budget and firing people, including Assistant City Manager Pamela Gumina.

With no notice to Gumina, Thomas later met twice with the city council behind closed doors to discuss her termination.

The Colorado Open Meetings Law authorizes city councils to meet in secret to discuss personnel matters. But because the secret sessions are premised on the privacy concerns of government employees, the employees concerned can veto the closed-door sessions and request a public meeting.

Because Gumina was not notified that she would be a subject of discussion at either city council meeting, she was denied the opportunity to veto the executive sessions. Arguing that the secret meetings were convened illegally, she demanded to see the minutes but her request was denied. She sued under the state’s open records act.

A Colorado trial court agreed that the executive sessions were illegal, but disagreed that the procedural defect justified making the meeting’s substantive content public. Gumina appealed.

Judge Dennis A. Graham, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals, reversed and ordered the minutes released. Graham noted that secret session minutes are only protected from public release when meetings are legitimately closed. If “a local public body fails strictly to comply with the requirements set forth to convene an executive session, it may not avail itself of the protections afforded by the executive session exception,” he wrote.

(Gumina v. City of Sterling; Media Counsel: Thomas B. Kelley, Steven D. Zansberg, Christopher P. Beall, Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., Denver) RL


© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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