Friday, January 11, 2008

Citizen Asks Public Access Counselor for Opinion on City Council Caucus

I previously reported about the contentious start for our new city council. The gist of their debate revolved around the long term practice of letting the majority decide the council president and commission representatives via party caucus instead of a open public meeting.

Last Tuesday councilman Tim Pape challenged new council President Tom Didier to end this practice and start the new era with a spirit of bipartisanship and open government. Didier not only refused, but also became angry with Pape after he said that making these decisions behind closed doors was a "poor process". Didier went on to say that they have done it that way for years and it was their right as a majority to continue the practice.

Now local resident Dan Jehl has written the Public Access Counselor and asked for her opinion regarding the legality of caucus process as it relates to selecting council positions that ultimately must be voted on by the entire counsel. You can read his request for an informal opinion below:

PAC Counselor,

These questions are hypothetical and based upon unverified newspaper articles. Please provide responses to help assist in clarifying the Open Door Law.
A public meeting was held with decisions made, including recorded voting, that fall under the purview of the Act, specifically the election of a council president and the selection of committee members of a governmental body
Prior to the public meeting, a private caucus was held to make these decisions. This meeting was not open to the public or media, and was limited to party caucus officials.

The agenda for the public meeting was published prior to the meeting and stated the new council president and the committee chairs and co-chairs by name and title. The actual public meeting was then held. The party majority which party held the caucus then ratified the decisions already made and publicly admitted that the decisions were already made in party caucus.

At the official public meeting, a party majority vote prevailed in the selection of the prior-meeting chosen council president. The new president then appointed the committee chairs and co-chairs. Then motions were made and votes recorded to appoint committee members. In each instance, the party majority prevailed with the prior meeting decisions thereby being made official and ratified.

With this context, here are the questions.

1. Are the Open Door Law Public Notice requirements met with use of an agenda serving as the public notice which: a)is undated as to day of posting and b)which explicitly reflects decisions made in a previously-held party caucus non-public meeting?

2. Was the party caucus meeting itself a violation of the Open Door Act with decisions made by public officials and then later made official at a public meeting?

3. Did the published agenda meet the agenda provisions of the Open Door Law given that it reflected the new President and Committee Chairs by name and title decided at the non-public party caucus meeting although the official public meeting had not yet occurred to make these names and titles official?

Thank you for your attention to these questions.

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