The Tuesday, Feb. 14, Archuleta School District (ASD) Board of Education meeting turned into a lesson on the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
Toward the end of the meeting, Superintendent Linda Reed said, “That was on my little list of things to talk with you afterwards …”
We pondered — what exactly is on that list? Why can’t she talk about that list during the public meeting?
Reed proceeded to explain that she was referring to “a proposal” that two teachers had presented to her and board president Greg Schick. During the brief and somewhat cryptic conversation, Schick acknowledged having talked to “a couple” of board members about “that.” Reed indicated that they would “follow up on ‘that’ after the meeting.”
Most people at the meeting who were trying to understand “that” conversation were left in the dark; however, anyone who understands Colorado’s Open Meetings Law was put on high alert.
The SUN asked Schick on Monday to help us understand what had transpired in “that” conversation. In an effort to not have a public conversation about public board business, the board president had spoken to at least two board members about the teachers’ proposal in an effort to hear their opinions on the proposal outside the public’s eye.
What we have here is a textbook example of a “walking quorum,” when the board members gave their opinion of the proposal in sufficient numbers to reach a quorum.
These board meetings, which evade the Open Meetings Law, are also referred to as rolling quorums, serial meetings, chain meetings, daisy-chain meetings, wheel-and-spoke meetings and wheel-hub meetings.
Where the school board is concerned, two board members are permitted to have a conversation, but when the number of directors who have the conversation makes a quorum of the board, three in this case, you cannot discuss the school board’s business outside of an open meeting.
It’s clear the board wanted to garner consensus outside of the public eye for their own reasons. This is clearly not in line with the ASD board meeting website, which touts, “Accountability ~ Communication ~ Transparency.”
During The SUN’s conversation with Schick, he took responsibility for violating the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
Call it a daisy chain, a walking quorum or a meeting tree, said Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and an attorney for The SUN.
By whatever name, Zansberg said, “They’re all labels the court has applied to improper efforts to evade the quorum requirements of the Open Meetings Law. In 2008, Colorado’s Supreme Court stated that ‘the [Open Meetings Law] prohibits bad-faith circumvention of its requirements.’”
Earlier in that same meeting, another violation of the Open Meetings Law was noted when a discussion was held regarding the tour of the elementary school that day. Unfortunately, the board failed to notice that tour as a meeting.
The SUN received an email from Reed on Thursday, Feb. 16, stating, “It has come to my attention that we failed to notice the school board’s visit to the elementary school for their annual school visit this past Tuesday. This was definitely a mistake on our part and for that I apologize. The future visits to the other schools have been noticed so we don’t make the same mistake again. Again, my apologies for this mistake.”
We appreciate the apology and taking responsibility for the board’s actions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the board broke the law. And, upon checking the website Wednesday morning, those future school visits are not noticed.
The constraints of the Open Meetings Law may be frustrating to the members of our local boards, but it is the broader right of the public to know the workings of its government that should always come first.
It is anticipated that ASD will need to reach out to taxpayers to seek additional funding for teacher salaries or expansion of facilities. For that effort to be successful, it is imperative that the board has the trust of its constituents and abides by the law.