PUEBLO, Colo. - Several Pueblo City Council members violated the Colorado Sunshine Law by discussing public city business over group emails.
KRDO NewsChannel 13's news partner, The Pueblo Chieftain, filed a Colorado Open Records Request to obtain emails that Pueblo City Councilors Ami Nawrocki, Chris Kaufman and President Sandy Daff exchanged with Pueblo County Transportation Director Greg Severance.
The Chieftain reporter Peter Roper reviewed more than 1,100 pages of emails and found that Severance has been coaching Daff, Nawrocki and Kaufman on how to handle several city issues. Those issues include how to spend the city's half-cent sales tax, hiring a trash consultant and loaning money for the Regional Tourism Act project.
"It's very troubling. It's more of the same. It's more secret meetings," said Councilman Chris Nicoll.
But Nawrocki said, "I don't feel that I have engaged in any illegal meeting."
KRDO NewsChannel 13 found that some of the email exchanges violate the Colorado Sunshine Law, which prohibits three or more elected officials from meeting privately, including email, to discuss public business.
For instance, in an email dated July 5, Severance told the three council members to hurry up and hire a trash consultant, aware that several trash haulers in Pueblo were against the idea.
Severance refers to the trash collectors as "the hauler mafia" and told the council members, "When your enemy brings a knife to a fight, you bring a Bazooka."
Nawrocki responded, "I completely agree. I literally have nothing else to add here. Love it."
"I'm in," Kaufman replied.
Daff responded two days later, "I typically don't respond to these group emails."
Nawrocki told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that she does not believe her e-mail violated the Colorado Sunshine Law and said Severance was one of a "variety of sources" she consults with to make informed decisions.
"All of the policy decisions that we have made have been made in open discussion, in public meetings," she said.
Frank Cortese, co-owner of C & C Disposal, said Severance's "hauler mafia" comment was disappointing. "We are local businesses just trying to make a living for ourselves and our employers."
The Chieftain's Managing Editor, Steve Henson, is also past president of the Colorado Press Association. He disagrees with Nawrocki and said her email exchange was a violation of the law.
"Unfortunately, there's not much teeth in the law," Henson said. "There aren't fines or prison penalties or anything like that. But the remedy has always been at election time."
Nicoll first blew the whistle on city council in April, when he accused council of having closed-door meetings to talk about changing the use of the half-cent sales tax.
"I think you just have an arrogant council, in part. Part of the council is arrogant and they're just not worried about what the law says," Nicoll said.
Severance released a statement that said, in part, "Personally, I am focused on the ends (problem solving and solutions) not the means (emails)."
Kaufman called news stories of the emails "a horrible distraction." Daff did not respond for comment.
To read the e-mail exchanges, visit: http://forms.chieftain.com/illegal-pueblo-email-meetings/