In July 2019, El Paso County Commissioners took to executive session and talked about a poll that would cost the taxpayers $20,500. Seemingly, the County Commissioners intended for the poll results to determine whether voters would approve a County TABOR override ballot measure.
Here’s how they described the reason for the executive session:
This agenda item appears on both the July 23 and July 30, 2019 agendas.
In March, we blogged about this expenditure, and wanted to know why the poll was commissioned. The poll had been discussed in multiple BOCC Executive Session meetings.
Here’s that blog, called Taxpayers Unwittingly Pay for Manipulative Poll. Our initial objection was that the County Commissioners approved a $20,500 poll to determine how to best manipulate taxpayers out of more taxpayer money.
We wanted to know more, but because the discussions were held in executive session, there is no recording posted publicly. We were persistent in our attempts to get the executive session audio recordings released.
We filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.
The County refused to share any audio from the executive session where they talked about this taxpayer-funded poll.
Soon after that, we contacted each of the El Paso County Commissioners for comment, since they represent the people whose money was spent on the poll. After providing them a summary of why we were asking, here are the questions we asked each Commissioner:
- Whose idea was it to hire Square State Media to perform a telephone poll of El Paso County citizens?
- Who recommended and approved the County Chief Financial officer sign the $20,500 invoice paid to Square State Media?
- Was the telephone poll a necessary expense that you supported?
- Has the County contracted for other telephone polling while you have served on the County Commission?
These questions posed to the Commissioners sound pretty easy for them to answer. They were all in the executive session, where these questions were likely discussed.
Commissioners Gonzalez, VanderWerf, and Williams responded to our email, but not with direct answers to our questions. Commissioners Bremer and Waller did not reply at all.
We continued to look for ways to have access to this information.
We then contacted the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. We sought advice about how to compel the County to comply with our request. They advised us that there are two ways to compel the release of executive session recording.
- Take the county to court, and a judge would make the decision for or against the records release.
- The El Paso County Commissioners could vote to release the executive session recordings at a BOCC meeting.
So, we asked the El Paso County Public Information Officer (PIO) whether the Commissioners can vote to release the executive session recording. Here’s that request:
To say we were stunned by the response to that oh-so-polite email is an understatement. To be fair, the PIO was likely directed how to respond by someone in the County with a law degree. Here’s how the PIO responded:
Please understand what’s happening here. We are not attorneys, nor are we a well-funded group that has a budget to hire “competent legal counsel.” The County doesn’t want us to hear what happened in the executive session.
Although we are not attorneys ourselves, we do know how to look up the state statutes.
In summary, a judge can listen to the recording, in camera (meaning, in private), and can require the records to be open to public inspection if they aren’t required to be kept private. If there are other matters conducted in that executive session that need to be kept private, the judge can presumably require some portions be kept private, and some be open to public inspection. This option would require us to hire an attorney.
As an alternative, the Commissioners can vote to release the recordings, all or partial. This is the solution we are asking for. This is the solution we can afford on behalf of the taxpayers.
You deserve answers. Our elected officials frequently use the word “transparency.” We found that several members of the El Paso Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) have used the word in recent meetings.
You bet we did a clip:
Do they believe transparency applies to some El Paso County issues, but not others?
Please consider sending an email to your El Paso County Commissioners at these email addresses:
We encourage you to be your most polite self, as always. Feel free to copy and paste the questions we asked in our email if that’s helpful. Ask them to place an item on the agenda to release the audio from the July 2019 executive session, as it applies to the poll for the TABOR ballot initiative.
Long ago, Patrick Henry said,
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
We still believe that’s the case today.