Case Number: 2023CV030028
Court: Huerfano County District Court
Client: The World Journal
Application for Access Filed: June 22, 2023
Background: In January 2023, Mark Craddock, a reporter for The World Journal, filed a public records request seeking the recording of closed meeting of the Walsenburg City Council during which members allegedly discussed the city’s ailing water infrastructure and acrimony over whether to consult the former city water manager as a resource, in spite of hard feelings regarding his departure from the city.
The city denied Craddock’s request, claiming that the recording could not be publicly released “because executive session recordings are not subject to public inspection” under the Colorado Open Meetings Law. City officials used the same reasoning to deny Craddock’s later request for an attachment to an email sent by the former mayor, Charles Bryant, that also concerned the water infrastructure issue.
On behalf of The World Journal, Rachael Johnson, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Colorado, filed a lawsuit asking the Huerfano County District Court to order the Walsenburg City Council to disclose the requested records. The lawsuit states that the records are subject to disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act because the executive session was held in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law. According to the lawsuit, city council members met privately to discuss an unauthorized topic not subject to an executive session exemption, and they failed to properly notice the public about what they would be discussing before the closed-door meeting began.
Quote: “Discussions on topics of great public interest such as the city’s poor water infrastructure do not fall under any [Colorado Open Meetings Law] exception that permit a local or state body to convene in executive session,” Johnson wrote on behalf of The World Journal in an application for access to the executive session recording.
Related: Johnson, alongside attorney Steven Zansberg, is representing six news outlets in a similar fight to obtain the recording of a secret meeting during which board members of the Denver Public Schools discussed re-deploying armed resource officers to high schools following a local school shooting. On June 23, 2023, a judge held that the Denver Public Schools violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law by failing to properly notice the public about the topics school officials would discuss before they met behind closed doors for five hours. An appeal is pending.
Update: On Dec. 14, 2023, The World Journal reported that a judge ordered the city of Walsenburg to hand over the recording of the executive session so the judge can privately review it before deciding whether it should be released to the public.
2023-09-18: Plaintiff’s hearing brief