Watchdogs: Ethics panel challenging ‘all legal boundaries’ to meet in secret

A nonprofit watchdog group says Colorado’s top ethics panel should set an example for government transparency rather than “challenging all legal boundaries” by “conducting official business in secret.” Colorado Ethics Watch decried how the state Independent Ethics Commission “stealthily conducts business” in a response to Wednesday’s Colorado Independent story detailing legal questions about the panel’s penchant for meeting behind closed doors.

The state ethics commission has spent roughly 85 percent of its time meeting in secret this year, according to a Colorado Independent analysis. An attorney who specializes in First Amendment law says the panel doesn’t appear to have “strictly complied” with Colorado’s stringent open meetings law, which could render its numerous closed-door, executive sessions “illegal meetings” that were closed to the public.

Here’s the statement from Chantell Taylor, director of Colorado Ethics Watch:

Ethics Watch staff have been present at virtually all IEC meetings and can attest that the IEC stealthily conducts business. Rarely is the public adequately informed of the specific topics discussed in executive session and yet an overwhelming majority of the commissioners’ official business is conducted in executive session. Above all, the Ethics Commission should be setting an example of utmost transparency for the rest of state government to follow, not challenging all legal boundaries to promote the practice of conducting official business in secret.

The Colorado Independent has asked the panel for recordings or minutes of the secret meetings, citing the Colorado Open Records Act. Under the law, the commission has 72 hours to respond to requests; in this case, that deadline is Friday afternoon.

The state ethics commission was created by voters in 2006 with the approval of Amendment 41, sold as a measure to increase accountability and transparency in government. The five-member commission is responsible for investigating ethical violations and enforcing ethical standards for public officials and government employees.

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Ernest Luning

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