Unbowed by a ruling two weeks ago in which a Larimer County judge found that Colorado State University violated Open Meetings laws, the CSU board and its lawyers fought an order demanding the release of audio tapes of the executive session where the board selected its own vice chairman, Joe Blake, as sole finalist for the new chancellor position.
Judge Stephen Schapanski today granted CSU a stay of his order. The battle over the release of the tapes is part of a larger ongoing suit brought last month by The Colorado Independent, The Fort Collins Coloradoan and The Pueblo Chieftan alleging the university violated state transparency laws.
Following a motion in the suit brought last month by the media organizations, Schapanski listened in private to a four-hour tape of the May 5 meeting. He said the board had clearly discussed Blake’s candidacy and made decisions about filling the new chancellor position behind closed doors in direct violation of laws intended to open those sorts of discussions to the public.
The meeting and the decision to back Vice Chairman Blake’s candidacy raised questions immediately about the fairness of the process. Had a true variety of candidates been considered? What qualifications were most highly valued in the decision-making process? Who were the other candidates and how were they recruited?
CSU had released roughly an hour of the tape of the May 5 meeting last month after the media outlets filed the joint lawsuit. Schapanski, however, agreed with the media outlets that more of the tape was relevant and deserved to be posted for public review. According to that ruling, the tape would have to be released within the next few weeks.
CSU filed its motion fighting Schapanski’s order Monday night. The university lawyers say consenting to the order would mean agreeing with the judge’s reasoning that the board had broken the law, and would amount to an admission of guilt in the case, which is still going forward.
The Coloradoan quotes CSU lawyers:
The court’s conclusion is contrary to public policy and to the policy of the (Colorado Open Meetings Law) to deem a state public body’s exercise of its statutorily granted discretion to release an executive session record to be an admission. There are many reasons why a state public body may decide to consent, among them, as here, a demonstrated public interest in the matter in question.
Blake took office as chancellor last week. His contract will be posted for public review in the next two weeks as “agreements are finalized and all the appropriate signatures obtained,” according to CSU’s Denver-based public relations director, Michele McKinney.
Read more from the Coloradoan’s Trevor Hughes.