To the editor,
Are the Rio Grande County commissioners following proper parliamentary procedures and requirements with regard to open meeting laws? Why are they not being transparent in all their meetings and decisions? Under the Open Meetings Law and Public Records Act, citizens are guaranteed access to all public meetings and government information, with some exceptions. Under the law, all meetings at which public business is discussed and at which a quorum of any local public body is in attendance, must be open to the public. The law also stipulates that full and timely notice must be given to the public for all meetings at which an action may be taken. Under certain circumstances a public body may conduct executive sessions only at properly noticed “regular or special meetings” where official action may be taken by the board, and the executive session and its purpose should be noted on the agenda. No final action can be taken in the executive meeting. Action can only be taken in the public portion of the meeting. Plus, by statute, there are only special circumstances that an executive meeting can be called, with proper and specific guidelines to be followed. Other than the specific statutes’ limitations, all meetings are open to the public.
On the Rio Grande County website where agendas are posted, there was no agenda, regular or special, posted for May 22, 2020. The calendar lists an “executive session,” but there is no agenda. One cannot tell if it is a BOCC or Board of Health executive session. This is also true for another executive session posted for May 29, but it is listed as a BOCC executive session – but no reason is given for the meeting nor was an agenda posted. How could our commissioners make a motion to go into executive sessions on either day when they were not in an official regular or special BOCC meeting in the first place that was duly posted? Plus, no decision can be made in an executive decision.
Commissioner Noffsker, in the May 27, 2020, BOCC meeting asked for a vote to “ratify the decision made May 22” – presumably to fire Public Health Department Director Emily Brown. He originally used the word “vote,” but then corrected himself to say it was a “consensus” decision. The action to terminate Ms. Brown was taken before the consensus was ratified by the BOCC.
Also, during the ratification part of the meeting, there was a motion and a second, but no official vote given by any commissioner. Chairman Noffsker asked if there was any discussion or objections, and after a lengthy period of public comment, he then declared that the motion to ratify the consensus had carried. Later in the Public Health portion of the meeting, he said he does not ask for votes. Rather, it is his practice to ask for motions and seconds, and if there are no objections, he declares the motion carried. While this form of handling motions may be listed in Roberts Rules of Order, government bodies traditionally ask for “aye, yes, nay or no votes” from each elected official so that they are each on record with their vote. Roll call votes are traditionally held by most government bodies, especially in very important actions. The public needs this type of vote so that it can hold its elected officials accountable for their actions.
Also, Rio Grande County is now electronically recording its BOCC meetings. Why did Commissioner Bothell submit changes/corrections to the minutes in the May 27 BOCC meeting? What is she changing in the written minutes from what was recorded electronically? Again, this is another reason to question the transparency of the commissioner meetings.
The BOCC also posted a public work session for Tuesday, May 26. The agenda indicated the public could attend by Zoom. The agenda was (1) discussion with Public Health Staff and (2) Discussion Phase 2 of COVID Variance. Just prior to the meeting starting, the County Administrator announced the meeting had been canceled. However, all commissioners were at the courthouse that morning. There was no other agenda posted for a regular or special BOCC meeting that day. Where is the transparency in that? Were any decisions made? Shouldn’t open meeting rules, including minutes of the meeting have applied if the commissioners were meeting as they were all at the courthouse and presumably in the administrative office or commissioners’ chambers at the same time? Were any actions taken or decisions made? Actions speak louder than the commissioners’ words May 27 when they said they didn’t have secret meetings. The posted minutes from January through April show that there is an excessive amount of executive sessions. Reasons to call “executive sessions” are strictly limited by state statute. We are concerned about the lack of transparency regarding decisions made in the May executive sessions.
For clarification, in the Jan. 15, 2020 BOCC minutes when the commissioners were appointing department heads for the year, Commissioner Bothell moved to discuss the Public Health Director position until a later date; the motion passed. As of the April BOCC minutes, there was no mention of appointing Ms. Brown as the Director for 2020, yet she was expected to act in that capacity, and was doing so until she was dismissed. No minutes from the Board of Health have been posted on the county website since September 2019.
These are difficult times, and we encourage the Rio Grande County Commissioners to always err on the side of complete transparency and openness.
Rio de la Vista
Sarah Conrad Yoder