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School board to end agenda-setting through e-mail

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By Emile Hallez

The Jeffco school board is halting its practice of holding e-mail discussions to develop agendas, a member told the Columbine Courier following an investigative review of the board’s recent e-mails.

In e-mails sent among board members in December and January, the group discussed its priorities for several upcoming meetings, including the district’s budget. Though Colorado law allows public bodies to send e-mails among colleagues, it does not permit discussion of public business, which could occur when a board member sends a response to such an e-mail to all other members.

School board president Lesley Dahlkemper, who had recently taken office, sent two e-mails to all other members regarding the board’s upcoming schedule. Dahlkemper proposed topics for specific dates, and after asking for feedback, she and the rest of the board received responses from each member.

Items from Dahlkemper’s proposed schedules were then added to the board’s agendas, the most prominent of which was a budget-process discussion on Jan. 5.

Though Dahlkemper said the board’s e-mail discussions were likely in line with the Open Meetings Law, the online meetings took the board into a gray area, a habit she added she would like to avoid.

“In this particular instance I don’t think our e-mail discussion, our finalizing of the agenda, violated the policy-making process,” Dahlkemper said. “I will not make the same mistake in the future, and I will remind board members in the future that there should not be discussions via e-mail. … There are certain areas that may be gray areas, and we want to avoid gray areas.”

Under the state’s sunshine law, which governs public bodies, a meeting is defined as a gathering to discuss public business via any form of communication.

A day before the Jan. 5 meeting, board member Laura Boggs sent a message to Dahlkemper, noting that the decision process to change the agenda amounted a meeting and therefore a breach of the law.

“Making these decisions on e-mail is considered having a board meeting, which is a violation of the sunshine laws,” Boggs stated. “I hope we get better about doing our work in public as the law demands.”

Previously Boggs had also provided feedback, responding to all other board members in e-mails about agendas.

The board normally sets aside time at the end of its business meetings to develop future agendas. However, information released by the state about its economic forecast came between meetings, a factor Dahlkemper said pressed the board to update its agenda for the Jan. 5 meeting.

Regardless, district staff regularly adjust agendas according to input from the individual board members.

If similar e-mail discussions happen to occur in the future, Dahlkemper said, a solution to make the e-mail meeting public would be to post the e-mails online.

“I think we know in the future that we can’t have dialogue back and forth as a board,” she said. “My sense is that we can state information but we can’t engage in conversation.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.