Abuse of power

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    “We are entering into an illegal meeting to negotiate secretly about spending $4.7 million of taxpayer money to purchase the facility that we are currently renting. We will be taking our building owner, who just happens to be a contract adversary, into the meeting with us. We are excluding the public. We will also talk about policy matters that should be discussed in public, but we will spend well over an hour talking about them privately so the public has no idea what we are doing.”

    That would have been the only way for the Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) to announce its Nov. 17 executive session. The board entered that session taking its building’s owner, Mark Weiler, with them.

    When the session began, one board member questioned why they were entering an executive session with the building owner. It’s unfortunate that those concerns did not cause the board to halt the executive session when the discussion strayed over numerous topics throughout the lengthy session. The board never even attempted to keep the conversation to a topic that would be allowed in an executive session per the Colorado Open Meetings Law.

    It was an unfortunate example of the manner in which pubic boards abuse executive sessions and hide their thought processes. You cannot just shut the door to the public.

    The requirement of the law to identify a specific topic was not followed by the PPOS board of directors when entering the executive session. All that was stated was, “Now we are going to enter executive session. Per C.R.S 24-6-402(4)(b) and (4)(e) to discuss specific contractual issues.”

    The Colorado Open Meetings Law allows boards to meet in executive session for only specific reasons. “Contractual issues” is not among those reasons.

    The board cited “conferences with an attorney … for the purposes of receiving legal advice …” for the session. If the board of directors received advice from its attorney on any legal issues regarding this matter, the PPOS closed-door discussion would not be privileged with Weiler in the room. The board’s attorney was not even present for the session.

    They also cited the statute related to “developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators.” You can’t take a contract adversary into an executive session.

    When pressed for more information about the meeting, The SUN was told via email, “… the reason for the executive session was that we were getting advice on a potential facilities expansion, and Mark is the owner of our building.”

    In denying The SUN’s Colorado Open Records Act request, PPOS board president Ursala Hudson wrote in part, “You speculate that the meeting may have improperly convened to conduct direct negotiations. That is not the case. Further, Mr. Weiler’s presence does not change this fact since it was not a negotiation with Mr Weiler which was at issue in the meeting.”

    What’s interesting is that since the board has released the recording, it is clear that the board and Weiler were, in fact, negotiating the purchase of the Parelli building. They discussed leasing the facility, pricing, collateral and other terms regarding the purchase. That’s negotiating.

    Another topic in the executive session was increasing the limits on the number of students at the charter school. Talking about whether to expand the school is a policy matter that should be talked about in public.

    In releasing the recording, Hudson stated, “We held an executive session last meeting, which the reason for entering that executive session was improperly cited in the agenda and we did not enter that session with a sufficient explanation of why we were entering that session.”

    We contend there could never be a sufficient explanation of why they entered into executive session. The discussion should have been public.

    A charter school that just took out a second line of credit at a special meeting and didn’t notice that meeting to a list of people who have signed up to receive its meeting notices needs to operate in the public view.

    The one thing the board got right about the executive session was in realizing they were wrong and releasing the recording.

    Terri Lynn Oldham House