CSU settles open-meeting lawsuit; agrees to release tapes

The CSU Board of Governors today agreed to settle the open-meeting lawsuit that followed from the board’s selection in May of its own vice chairman, Joe Blake, as the university’s new standalone chancellor.

The university admits no wrongdoing in the settlement but it has agreed to turn over sections of an audiotape of the closed-door session in which the board deliberated on Blake’s candidacy and decided to effectively install him in the position. The university will also pay attorneys’ fees incurred by the three media outlets that brought the suit, The Colorado Independent, The Fort Collins Coloradoan and the Pueblo Chieftain.

The board initially released a redacted version of the audiotape in reaction to the lawsuit. But the media organizations, frustrated for months in trying to report on the new office and the candidate-selection process, were unsatisfied and wanted access to the full tape. They argued that state laws governing public-university search processes are clear. The board had violated those laws, they said, by only vaguely announcing the topics of the chancellor-search meetings to the public, by discussing fellow board member Blake as a job candidate and by making decisions about hiring behind closed doors.

The media organizations asked Larimer Court Judge Stephen Schapanski to review the full tape of the May 5 meeting in private to determine whether the redacted sections contained evidence relevant to the suit. Schapanski ruled that they did. He further ruled that they constituted evidence that CSU broke the law, and he ordered CSU to release the redacted minutes of the meeting.

CSU attorneys first fought to prevent Schapanski from listening to the tapes and then fought his order to release them. Challenging his finding that the university broke the law, CSU said Schapanski had effectively found the university guilty before the case went to trial.

The suit continued, but after Schapanski had ruled so strongly in favor of the media organizations, the university’s attorneys appeared open for the first time to negotiation.

The board turned over the redacted minutes of the May 5 meeting to the media organizations this afternoon. The link is above and here.

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