Colorado SpringsNews

Colorado Springs council tackles problems with executive sessions — in another executive session

Author: Conrad Swanson - May 22, 2018 - Updated: May 22, 2018

City Councilwoman Helen Collins climbs the stairs of City Hall in 2015 while fellow council members met two-on-one with a lawyer retained to give them legal advice and consultation regarding the the Independent Ethics Commission recommendation. (The Gazette file photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Springs City Council might change how it holds executive sessions, though details weren’t available because the group discussed the issue Monday in an executive session.

The council has spent about $5.4 million to settle at least seven lawsuits since 2013, all decisions made in closed sessions in apparent violation of Colorado’s open meetings law.

Now the council is addressing how to change its handling of such sessions, Council President Richard Skorman said.

That conversation, expected to last weeks, includes updates to make council actions “more transparent to our constituents,” Councilman Tom Strand said.

Councilmen Don Knight and Bill Murray voted against holding Monday’s discussion behind closed doors. Both say they have been uncomfortable with the council’s closed-door practices for years.

City code says the council must approve any settlements exceeding $100,000. The state’s open meeting law bars the group from making decisions behind closed doors.

Even informal actions constitute a decision and violate the law, says First Amendment attorney Steven D. Zansberg who has represented The Gazette.

But City Attorney Wynetta Massey says the council can approve settlements in closed meetings because it isn’t taking legislative action.

Massey’s role, however, is advisory, Knight says, and the council can behave more transparently if it wishes. The best solution is to change city code to require public votes for high-dollar settlements, he said.

The council will next discuss the issue in another executive session in June, Skorman said.

Conrad Swanson

Conrad Swanson