An erosion of trust

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If there was such a thing as a Colorado Open Meetings Law (COML) award of the month, we would give it to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors. 

COML, which is part of the Colorado Sunshine Law, requires a governmental body to discuss public business or to take formal action in meetings that are open to the public.

At its meeting last week, the board decided to have District Manager Justin Ramsey withdraw from the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC). They also decided to have board member Bill Hudson withdraw as their representative to County Manager Derek Woodman’s short-term rental task force.

Simply put, the PSCDC and the county’s task force are not following COML and, until they do, PAWSD is not going to be involved. 

Kudos to this board for demonstrating the importance of transparency and conducting business in the light of day.

Short-term rental task force

Woodman closed his task-force meetings to the public. The hand-selected members were required to sign nondisclosure agreements barring them from discussing the topics and contents of the meetings. 

Woodman also declined to provide the names of the task force’s members. He cited concerns about members being harassed due to the nature of their work. 

This secret county group has a professional facilitator, who is most likely paid for with taxpayer dollars. 

In response to a question about whether Woodman sees the task force as an advisory committee to the county commissioners, which would require it to have public meetings, Woodman stated, “I don’t see it being an advisory committee to the commissioners and they’re not public. It’s my committee. It wasn’t appointed by them; it wasn’t created by them. It was created by me. I picked them, I selected them. They’re not appointed by the commissioners; I can remove them.”

Woodman plans to present a recommendation that is garnered from a consensus of the task force to the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) following its final meeting. 

It is worth repeating: A recommendation will be garnered from a consensus of the task force and presented to the BoCC. 

No matter how you twist it, the committee is being used as an advisory group to the BoCC. And when you follow the law, advisory groups must hold public meetings. 

When it comes to an issue steeped in controversy such as short-term rentals, the public deserves to know just how the sausage was made when arriving at decisions.

Doing business in public helps to instill trust in your organization.

Paying commissioners’
mileage to drive to work

Public meetings have not been our only concern this week. 

A Colorado Open Records Act request revealed that two of our three county commissioners started cashing in on mileage reimbursements for driving from their residences to work. They took this action approximately two months prior to a crucial election. Perhaps this new expense could be one reason they are pushing so hard for the sales tax increase.

Our three commissioners are being paid salaries between $70,000 and $80,000 annually. 

Just because other counties chose to pay for their elected officials for mileage to drive back and forth from home to work does not mean that Archuleta County should lower its standards and adopt the same practice. Just because a loophole exists that allows this poor practice does not mean it is the right thing to do. 

When a commissioner is driving somewhere for business on behalf of the county, it makes total sense to reimburse them for mileage. When they are driving to and from work, it is just wrong to have the taxpayers pay for their personal mileage. 

This erodes trust in our elected officials, especially when there was no public discussion or awareness when it first occurred.

We commend Commissioner Ronnie Maez for refusing to participate in charging taxpayers for his drive to work. 

Protecting low-income
residents

Speaking of sales tax increases, the Committee for Safe Roads 1A is claiming that “tourists and residents will incur an extra $1.50 on every $100 spent on certain purchases.”

They also state: “Low-income residents, community organizations and fuel purchases are protected.”

No one has explained just exactly how they plan to protect our low-income residents. Those residents buy shoes, clothes, gifts and tires just like the rest of us. They are not exempt to paying sales taxes. 

It is truly disappointing to read such blatant misinformation distributed in an effort to pass a sales tax increase from a group that is funded by the PSCDC, which is, in turn, receiving funding from both the town and county.

Pros and cons 

It is also unfortunate that the pro and con statements prepared by Woodman as Archuleta County’s designated election official in regard to Ballot Issue 1A did not follow Colorado Revised Statutes.

No ballot issue existed when the survey was conducted. The survey statements were not made by the respondents in response to an adopted ballot issue. They were not submitted with signatures, names and addresses as required. Only one statement was provided and it was a statement against the issue. 

We would expect that the pro and con statement would be prepared in accordance with statute. Not doing so has only planted additional seeds of distrust.

Resolution language

Distrust for our county leaders has many concerned that the ballot language doesn’t actually state that the county and town intend to spend at least 50 percent of the potential sales tax increase on roads.

That 50 percent is included in the resolution pertaining to the ballot issue, which also reads, in part: “Unless otherwise required by Colorado law, the provisions of this Resolution may be amended by resolution of the Board of County Commissioners.”

County Attorney Todd Weaver explained the following in an email to The SUN Wednesday: “There is case law that states a local government/municipality cannot ‘materially depart’ from the approved uses of voter-approved revenue. Resolution 2022-98, which is specifically referenced in Ballot Issue 1A, requires that at least 50% of the revenue generated from the sales tax increase, if approved by the voters, must go to road and bridge improvements. … a future Board of County Commissioners could NOT pass a resolution allocating 0% of the revenue generated from the sales tax increase for road and bridge improvements, because that would be a material departure from what was approved by the voters. In order to do that, a future BoCC would have to go back to the voters for approval.”

Most people don’t know case law, and we understand their concerns.

Budget work sessions

On Tuesday, SUN staff discovered that the county was holding a departmental budget work session that had not been posted according to COML. 

We notified them of the error and they still moved forward with the session after conferring with the county attorney, who stated that the sessions were appropriately noticed. We beg to differ.

A simple clerical error could have easily been rectified to help rebuild trust of the county’s citizens.

It is clear why there is tremendous mistrust for our county government.

Terri Lynn Oldham House