New school board members get training on sunshine laws

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Members ask specific questions behind closed doors

By Gabrielle Porter

Jeffco’s new school board heard an overview of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law and Open Records Act during a public meeting last Thursday before moving behind closed doors to ask specific questions.

The board — whose five members were elected in November — originally was slated for a two-hour executive session to receive training on “the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials.”

Attorneys associated with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition told Evergreen Newspapers last week that general advice or teaching would not fall under the Open Meetings Law exemption for executive sessions.

Board President Ron Mitchell said at Thursday’s meeting that the executive session had been placed on the board’s agenda as a “courtesy to our citizens, so they could look at our board agenda and know that it was certainly a very good possibility that we would do that.”

Caplan and Earnest’s Jim Branum, one of the attorneys leading the training, recommended that the session be conducted behind closed doors because of the in-depth nature of the program. He said the training was designed to answer questions and provide advice to board members about certain scenarios that could arise during their time leading the district.

School board member Susan Harmon, herself an attorney, said she supported holding the training in executive session because she’s aware of the general tenets of the sunshine laws, and that the public has access to that same information. She said her questions revolved around specifics.

Board member Amanda Stevens said she wanted to make sure those watching understood how and why the board would move into a closed-door session, touching on the board’s theme of “rebuilding trust.”

“I was one of the people that wanted to make sure we had a balanced approach, and one of the reasons for that is because transparency in the role of legal counsel for the board has been a critical one in the last two years for Jeffco,” Stevens said. “Good governance means we need to demonstrate due diligence that we are neither a rubber-stamp board nor are functioning as though we have a sixth unelected member of the board who is being paid with taxpayer dollars.”

Colorado’s Open Meetings Law states that when a quorum of a public body discusses public business, that discussion must be open to the public and the press, with a few exceptions.

Colorado’s Open Records Act requires that most public records be available to the public, and that any citizen can request records from a government office, also with a few exceptions.

Contact Gabrielle Porter at gabrielle@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1042.