Open records request reveals email voting by secret ballot
Days after voting to put a mill levy increase on the ballot in an effort to help fund the project, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors voted via email to change the name of the Dry Gulch water storage project.
On June 21, The SUN received a “news release” email from SJWCD chair Rod Proffitt announcing that the district had decided to change the name of the project from the Dry Gulch Project to the San Juan Headwaters Project.
“The board of directors started this process at its regular February meeting, and reached out to the community for input. The board of directors officially decided to change the name at its regular board of directors meeting on June 12th, and then chose the name from a list that had circulated for the last several months,” the email states.
However, while the board did agree to change the name at its June 12 meeting after discussing it at previous meetings, it did not vote on the name, instead discussing how the final choices would be decided and that the board would vote on the name at its August board meeting.
Upon receipt of the news release, The SUN filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request seeking emails between members of the board regarding the project.
Per Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (COML), any meeting between either a quorum of the board or three or more, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed is public (with few exceptions built in to allow for executive sessions).
Statute further states: “Any meetings at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum of the body is in attendance, or is expected to be in attendance, shall be held only after full and timely notice to the public. 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.”
The response to The SUN’s CORA request revealed that the SJWCD board voted via email on the name change, despite stating intent during the June 12 meeting to vote on the change at the board’s August meeting.
Proffitt began the discussion on June 12 by stating, “That brings up project names. Uh, I guess I think we need to approach this in two steps. First, … what’s the will of the board in changing the name? Is there a majority on the board that wants to change the name from Dry Gulch Project to another project name?
“Capital Y, capital E, capital S,” Al Pfister responded.
Doug Secrist, participating via phone, added, “And, I would second that, yes.”
“And I would third it, and Susan appears to be fourthing it,” said John Porco, with Susan Nossaman stating she would “fourth” the motion.
Board member Ray Finney was absent from the meeting.
“I sense there’s unanimity in this,” Proffitt said. “Uh, OK, step one is accomplished. Step two, I do have a list of names and I’ve, I’ve been tossing it out to people, I even put a letter to the editor … in asking for name suggestions.”
“Did we get any?” Porco asked.
“Uh, no. We did not,” Proffitt replied, to which Porco said, “Interesting,” and Pfister added, “Shock, huh?”
“Actually, Susan is the only one who gave us an outside name that, uh, we hadn’t discussed previously,” Proffitt explained. “But these are the names that I think are still under consideration. We did get input from various individuals that are connected with the organization.”
Moments later, after a list of names was handed out to the board members, Proffitt continued, “Since we, since we have a lot of names, here’s what I’m gonna suggest. That everybody take the list and you mark your priorities — one, two and three — and then we’ll, uh, um, everybody vote on that one, two and three, and then we’ll add ‘em all up and see who gets the most one number, and if there’s a, uh, real consensus, then we’ll, uh, bring it back to the board and do a final approval in August. Is everybody agreeable with that kind of process?”
A discussion about the listed names followed, including which names the board did and did not like, as well as where some of the project name ideas were derived from.
Following several minutes of discussion, Pfister said, “Well, how about we go with this name and if anybody comes up with any other names they want to add to the list, have to have it in by Friday. And then we submit our one, two, threes like you were going from there, so we, so we can move on and have a name by the next meeting?”
After reiterating how the list of names had been amended, Proffitt asked, “Al, why don’t you put your process into a motion? That everybody has to have their one, two, three priorities in by Friday and we make a decision based on that.”
“Well, that wasn’t I said, but …,” Pfister responded.
“Close,” Proffitt said.
“Yeah, it was, it is close,” Pfister said.
Moments later, Pfister continued, “Well I guess if there’s any other names, have those in Friday.”
“There you go,” Proffitt said.
“So, I move if we have any, if anybody has any other names, get them in by Friday, so we’ll send them, well actually to Denise …,” Pfister said. “And then … Any other names beside the list here. And then, I dunno, as far as … the one, two, threes in by the following Friday.”
Porco seconded the motion.
“We have a motion and a second,” Proffitt said. “Does everybody understand what we’re doing here?”
Following a unanimous vote of the board, Proffitt added, “It carries, that’s what we’re doing.”
However, despite the press release announcing the new name, the SJWCD’s attorney, Austin Rueschhoff, of the Denver lands, wildlife and water law firm Holsinger Law, contends that the board has not yet formally adopted the new name, stating in a letter to The SUN, “SJWCD also intends to hold a special board meeting in the near future to allow public comment on potential name changes and to formally adopt a new name.”
In the letter, Rueschhoff also contended that the board was not in violation of the COML, stating, “I am not convinced that adopting a name by which the Board will refer to a certain project rises to the level of policy-making.”
The SJWCD board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at its office at 46 Eaton Drive, Suite 5.
That meeting is expected to cover the scheduling of public information meetings concerning the mill levy increase the district plans to place on the November ballot, and to conduct other business, though a full agenda had not been released as of Wednesday at 1 p.m.