Appearances

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Whether we like it or not, we are often judged by our appearance. While appearances shouldn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things, they do. And, not keeping up with appearances can be costly.

The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) and county attorney Todd Starr had their actions questioned in front of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) last week.

According to an IEC document, the complaints alleged that, “in conjunction with Mr. Starr’s departure from employment with the County, the Commissioners and Mr. Starr violated state law by agreeing to hire Mr. Starr’s new law firm (Rose Walker, LLP, dba Rose, Walker, Starr) to represent the County without following required service procurement procedures.”

Last week, the BoCC and Starr were cleared of charges brought against them regarding the complaints that were filed by Greg Giehl last December. The IEC decision was unanimous in finding their actions proper and that no state or local ethical standards were violated.

We believe the parties intended to be ethical, but their actions had the appearance of impropriety to some. We hope that in the future more thought is given to open government, processes and the appearance of possible wrongdoing.

One of the defenses the county used against the complaint was sole sourcing for legal services. Just because sole sourcing is allowed doesn’t mean that option won’t be appear questionable. And, when actions appear questionable — they will be questioned.

The attempt to hold our elected officials accountable was an expensive lesson in appearances.

Another questionable matter by local government was the action of the Pagosa Springs Town Council in allowing parties with whom they were negotiating to join the council in an executive session last year. It appeared the council was negotiating directly with the Springs Partners during the executive session. Bill Hudson objected to the executive session and filed suit.

Last week, following an in-camera review by Judge Greg Lyman, the town was ordered to release the portion of the audio recording that included negotiations with the Springs Partners.

While things aren’t always as they appear, in this case, they were. The judge’s decision remains subject to appeal. The matter is a possible executive session item on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting.

Something else that has a strange appearance is the apparent push by town and county officials to encourage the Archuleta School District Board of Education to sell a piece of property near the Vista subdivision. The property was originally donated to the district for the purpose of a future elementary and/or middle school and is deed restricted as such.

We question why these officials are involving themselves in the business of another elected body.

We believe the push by these elected officials for the Continuing Life Community for disabled adults is a well-intended effort. The community could be a benefit to Archuleta County, but not if that land is needed for a school in the future.

Another thing that clearly looks bad is when local elected officials are conducting daisy-chain meetings. These meetings, also known as a walking quorum or a meeting tree, are when an official circumvents an open meeting by holding meetings with one other elected person at a time in order to get majority support of an issue outside of the public’s view. Then they hold a meeting in public after the decisions have been made behind closed doors. These are improper efforts to evade the quorum requirements of the Open Meetings Law. These officials should follow the law and not challenge the trust of the public they serve.

Wouldn’t the best policy be that your actions and appearances remain above question?

Terri Lynn Oldham House