Town’s executive sessions serve the public’s interests
To the Editor:
The recent editorial “It’s up to the public to shine light on local government” states that the Granby Town Board doesn’t conduct its business in a manner suiting the “best interest of the public” and implies that shady, backroom deals are being discussed in executive sessions.
The editorial also accuses the board of being “too timid” to address local issues in plain sight. Alongside these unsubstantiated accusations is a worthwhile plea for more public attendance and involvement in meetings.
However, the accusations and innuendo twist the call for public participation into a “you better keep your eyes on those guys,” rather than a more positive message.
The Open Meetings Laws allow for executive sessions in matters of negotiation, consultation with the town attorney on legal matters, personnel issues (under certain conditions), and when dealing with purchase, lease, acquisition, transfer, or sale of personal, real, or other property interest. Those are the only circumstances for which executive sessions have been called by the Granby Board of Trustees.
There are a great many items subject to negotiation with our development community, including the amount of shared bond proceeds, terms of annexation, and conveyance of water rights, to name but a few. To have those discussions, where direction must be given to staff, in an open meeting would give advance notice to those parties with whom the town must negotiate and cost the town an advantage in the discussions.
The board, acting as your elected representatives, must look at the big picture when deciding how development will take place and not simply go along with what an individual company may desire. A certain amount of “bargaining” goes on, within the scope of state statute and town ordinances.
Your elected officials aren’t lawyers by profession. They’re active and retired business owners and wage earners. Municipal law is complex and ever changing. Consultations with the town attorney are frequent necessities to avoid putting the town at risk. On many occasions, those consultations have to do with negotiations, property issues, and so forth and are thusly intertwined.
The town is currently involved in an effort to purchase property for public facilities. Anyone who has bought real estate knows that price and other terms are negotiated, and everyone tries to make the best possible deal for their side. Laying all the cards on the table, in public, would only give the seller an unfair advantage in setting terms.
That would be irresponsible stewardship of public funds. You can be assured that the Granby Board does consider the public’s money as if it was their own.
Folks shouldn’t kid themselves that entities won’t try to “stick it” to a town just because they feel that a board may not drive a hard bargain because it’s not the trustees’ personal money, or for other reasons. In fact, there have been purchases the town wished to make that fell through because the town’s interest and/or positions were disclosed to the seller.
Personnel issues may be addressed in open meetings, if the subject of the discussion makes that request. To the best of my memory, I don’t think anyone involved in a personnel matter has wanted the discussion to be held in public, and that is also their right.
No decisions are ever voted upon in executive session. If a discussion leads to a need to vote, that vote occurs in open session before adjournment, and those votes are on the record.
If the press or citizens don’t choose to wait until the close of the session for those votes, it’s not the fault of the board that no one is around to ask questions or request detailed discussion.
There’s no disagreement with the editorial calling for more public involvement. All of the trustees and I have felt frustration at the seeming lack of interest in all the business of the town.
Each of us speaks to our constituents, has chats at the market or post office, receives e-mails and phone calls, but we seldom have regular attendance at planning commission or board meetings. Granted, our meetings often have the spine tingling excitement of watching paint dry, but much of local government is that way.
Public input is essential to our way of government, and your board welcomes you to attend and be heard. The new council chambers were designed to be more comfortable and to accommodate more attendance. If anyone wants explanations of how and why decisions are made the way they are, they just need to ask.
Before I moved to Colorado, I was the victim of a corrupt local government action in my neighborhood. As your mayor, the person responsible for running board meetings, and in light of my own past experience, I swore to you and myself that my belief in an open process was essential and that I would do everything in my power to assure that what happened to me wouldn’t happen in Granby under my watch.
My fellow trustees and I took oaths to uphold the laws of the state and our local ordinances, and we take those oaths seriously.
Executive sessions are an uncomfortable tool with which local government must work. They’re necessary and are justifiably limited in scope. Making insinuations that something’s amiss, without presenting specific evidence of wrongdoing, doesn’t contribute anything positive to the process and only further degrades our system of government in the eyes of the public.
It’s a disservice to those who put in the long hours of study and meetings to represent you, make good decisions on your behalf, and make our community work.
Mayor of Granby
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