It seems like to some people, changing the name of the Dry Gulch water storage project was so important, they decided to violate the Colorado Open Meetings Law (COML) to get it done.
A story on page one of this week’s paper outlines actions of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors, which voted via email by secret ballot to change the name of the Dry Gulch water storage project.
On June 21, The SUN received an email from SJWCD board chair Rod Proffitt, which stated, “San Juan Water Conservancy District announces the name of the reservoir project in the development stage east of Pagosa Springs on the former Running Iron Ranch property has been changed from the ‘Dry Gulch Project’ to the ‘San Juan River Headwaters Project’. … 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 content of that email was contradictory to what actually happened in the June 12 meeting, which The SUN staff attended.
Contrary to what Proffitt had announced in his email, no vote was held to select a specific name at that meeting. The SUN reported that at that meeting the board discussed possible name changes. The board then came up with the idea of each board member rating the possible choices, and then deciding on a name during the next board meeting.
SUN staff made a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request for emails between the board members that resulted in a 126-page PDF file revealing that the board voted by secret ballot in direct violation of the COML, which states, “Neither a state nor a local public body may adopt any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation or take formal action by secret ballot …”
The CORA request also resulted in a 126-page PDF file that included several emails between board members that were redacted by the board’s attorney Austin Rueschhoff.
The “Privilege Log” accompanying the emails explained that a June 15 email between Proffitt and board member Al Pfister titled “Zombie Reservoirs” had been redacted in its entirety, with Rueschhoff writing, “This email correspondence was made as part of the SJWCD Board’s deliberative process. The deliberative process privilege ‘rests on the ground that public disclosure of certain communications would deter the open exchange of opinions and recommendations between government officials, and it is intended to protect the government’s decision-making process, its consultative functions, and the quality of its decisions.’ … In this email, Rod Proffitt shared with Board member Al Pfister his personal opinion and recommendation regarding campaign strategy for an upcoming mill levy increase/TABOR election. The email is more in the nature of a subjective opinion and not factual material. The communication reflects the ‘give and take’ of the consultative and deliberative process, and its disclosure is of such a candid and personal nature that public disclosure is likely in the future to stifle honest and frank discussion within the SJWCD Board. Maintaining the ability for SJWCD Board members to hold honest and frank discussions amongst themselves is in the public interest.”
We find it interesting that the SJWCD board of directors is holding secret email discussions of an “honest and frank” nature regarding public business, yet the same board voted to put a mill levy increase on the ballot in an effort to have the public help fund the project.
It’s also interesting that, per the SJWCD’s bylaws, “By Order of the Archuleta County District Court … the District was organized and the Board of Directors was specified to consist of no less than seven (7)” members. The board only consists of six members, which makes the legality of the board even taking any action questionable.