Elbert Co. still hasn’t released minutes of ‘Jerry Springer-like’ commission meeting from 2015

This story first appeared on The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition website.

Six months after a controversial, contentious meeting of the Elbert County Commission, county residents are still waiting to read the meeting minutes.

Jill Duvall, who lives in Elizabeth, said she and others have made multiple requests for the minutes of the Nov. 18, 2015, commission meeting, at which several employees and elected officials called for the resignations of two county commissioners.

The Elbert County News described what happened that day as “an open rebellion” and “an organized uprising” against Commissioners Larry Ross and Kelly Dore. The atmosphere was “Jerry Springer-like,” one county resident told the newspaper.

But the minutes—the county’s official record of the five-hour meeting—apparently don’t exist, according to an April 4 letter Duvall received from the county in response to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.

“Please be advised that there are no records in the possession of Elbert County which are responsive to your request(s),” the letter says. It adds that Elbert County officials and employees “support the principle of ensuring that we maintain an open and accessible governing body.”

Anyone can download PDFs of commission meeting minutes on the county’s website going back to January 2013. The most recent meeting minutes available for download are those of Mar. 30, 2016. But the minutes of Nov. 18, 2015, weren’t on the website as of Friday morning. The agenda for the Nov. 18 meeting wasn’t there, either.

Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (the Sunshine Law) requires that minutes be taken at any local public body meeting “at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action occurs or could occur.” The OML’s minutes requirement was in effect for the Nov. 18 meeting because the commissioners considered resolutions as well as the proposed placement of the county attorney on paid administrative leave.

The Sunshine Law also says that minutes shall be “promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection.”

“The statute says they have to post the minutes in a timely fashion,” said Duvall, chair of the Elbert County Democrats. “To me, it’s a violation. The website has minutes from December and January and February. We still don’t have November. Why not?”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition tried via telephone and email to ask Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder about the minutes, but he did not respond.

Dore told the CFOIC that she and fellow Commissioner Ross also have been asking for the meeting minutes. She said Schroeder finally provided a transcript to commissioners in late April but the document likely won’t be made available to the public until the commissioners approve it during an upcoming meeting.

“He (Schroeder) just kept saying he didn’t have time to work on them,” Dore said. “The hard part for us is that he’s an elected official so we have no recourse over that department.”

Duvall said some county residents are meticulously transcribing an audio recording of the meeting, which they obtained from the county under CORA. If the minutes eventually are released, Duvall said she wouldn’t be surprised if they depict “a whitewashed version” of what actually happened.

She said several armed sheriff’s deputies were in the back of the room that day as Schroeder and other elected officials criticized Dore and Ross, whom Duvall described as “the commissioners who are trying to get something done in the county.”

She suspects the minutes haven’t been made available because Schroeder and the other elected officials on his side “don’t want the public to know what they did. They know it was embarrassing and humiliating, and it wasn’t successful.”

Dore and Ross, she noted, did not resign.

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Photo credit: Jeff Ruane, Creative Commons, Flickr