The Historic Preservation Board (HPB) has been holding illegal meetings via email throughout the last two months.
According to Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (OML), a meeting is defined as “Any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business in person, by telephone, electronically or by other means of communication.”
Through the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), The SUN requested “emails between a quorum of Historic Preservation Board members for the month of February and March 2017.”
The SUN, in turn, received a stack of printed emails a little higher than one-half inch.
A large number of the emails are different board members emailing the rest of the board members about whether or not they will be able to attend scheduled meetings.
Another large portion of the emails pertain to the letter that the HPB gave to the Pagosa Springs Town Council that pertained to recommendations for the overlook deck and design.
When Associate Planner Rachel Novak emailed updated drafts of the letter to the rest of the board, board members would reply to all of other board members with their recommendations, instead of just emailing Novak.
For example, when Novak emailed an updated draft to the board and requested feedback on March 11, HPB board member Larry Garcia replied to all board members instead of just Novak and provided feedback on the draft.
When Garcia emailed all of the board members and discussed his thoughts, the HPB held an illegal meeting.
In an email to all board members dated Feb. 21, board member Andre Redstone provided feedback and recommendations regarding a grant from the State Historic Fund, and provided recommendations on more discussion items for the following meeting.
In an email dated March 7, HPB Chairperson Lindsey Smith emailed the rest of the board and reminded them to look over the meeting packet before the upcoming meeting, and provided some changes to a draft letter to Fred Harman Art Museum Board Members.
Board member Chrissy Karas responded to the email by emailing the entire board with a correction to the letter and to explain she was in agreement with the rest of the letter.
Again, this constitutes an illegal meeting.
Garcia followed up that email, replying to all, to say that he would be at the meeting.
Karas and board member Peggy Bergon did the same.
On March 6, Novak emailed the HPB board to inform them that a meeting would need to take place that day, at 2:15 p.m.
By holding the meeting a few hours after the email went out, the HPB did not notice the meeting and allow a timely noticing of the meeting.
The OML states that any meeting where a majority or quorum is expected to be in attendance requires a public notice that is “full and timely.”
“In addition to any other means of full and timely notice, a local public body shall be deemed to have given full and timely notice if the notice of the meeting is posted in a designated public place within the boundaries of the local public body no less than twenty-four hours prior to the holding of the meeting,” reads state statute.
On March 9, Novak emailed the board to explain that she would not change anything on a draft that was discussed at a prior meeting.
Different board members then replied to all other board members to express approval over the draft, which in turn meant that the HPB came to a consensus on an issue, instead of discussing it at the next meeting.
Regarding the letter to town council pertaining to the overlook, different members of the HPB emailed each other on March 16 to discuss a part of the draft that was about transparency.
In an email from Garcia to Novak and the rest of the HPB, Garcia wrote, “Great revision, takes care of the concerns regarding TC’s lack of transparency, possibly being perceived in the wrong context.”
Redstone also commented on the letter discussing transparency, writing, in an email to all HPB members, “I am not sure that we are making a wise choice to include the ‘Transparency’ component in the letter, even though I agree with the sentiment as a member of the community. My concern is that the council will take offense to the perception of a value judgement, but also, it is not in our remit as an advisory body to Town Council, to remark on governmental procedure.”
These themes of replying to all board members and coming to a consensus on issues continue to reappear within the stack of emails, along with the theme of board members communicating with each other on whether or not they’ll be attending upcoming meetings.
Ironically, Town Planner James Dickhoff emailed the HPB members on March 6 and wrote, “Please find attached some information on Ethics, Liability & Best Practices for Officials. Although most is related to elected positions, HPB members should follow the same best practices outlined.”
Attached to the email are two documents, with one titled “Public Officials Liability Handbook” and the other titled “Ethics Liability and Best Practices (2015).”
It is acceptable for staff to distribute information to board members.
Town Manager Greg Schulte issued a statement and explained that, even though the HPB has held many illegal meetings, he doesn’t believe they were acting with nefarious intent.
“It’s unfortunate that the Historic Preservation Board appears to have held unnoticed meetings via e-mail regarding the proposed letter to Council regarding the Overlook design,” wrote Schulte. “I don’t believe it was the intent of the HPB to not be transparent with the public.”
Concludes Schulte’s statement, “Clearly there needs to be additional education for the HPB Board, as well as all of our other advisory boards, about Open Meeting rules and what communications are permissible, which ones are not, and in what context. We certainly will be arranging for educational information on this topic for all our advisory boards as soon as possible.”