Pueblo City Council President Sandy Daff is defending accusations that she violated the Colorado Sunshine Law, just four months after similar accusations surfaced.
KRDO NewsChannel 13's news partners, The Pueblo Chieftain, obtained hundreds of pages of emails that show council members Ami Nawrocki, Chris Kaufman and Sandy Daff have been receiving political advice from Pueblo County Transportation Director Greg Severance. Daff dismissed reports that she violated the Colorado Sunshine Law by participating in an email exchange with two other council members. Kaufman and Nawrocki are also accused of breaking the law.
"If I did anything wrong, I will apologize for it, but I will tell you right now I did nothing wrong," Daff said.
Four months ago, council held a press conference to defend similar accusations that it was violating the boundaries of executive session.
"Did City Council do anything improper? Absolutely not," Daff said during the April 18 press conference at City Hall.
Councilman Chris Nicoll exposed the closed-door meetings in April, arguing that during executive session council was discussing how to change the use of the city's half-cent sales tax. Email exchanges released this week indicate more secret meetings were occurring, but this time it was via email.
"You mentioned yeah a couple of scandals under my presidency, and does that hurt? You bet. It hurts right in the heart," Daff said. "I think what I've learned is that talking with people face to face is the best form of communication."
Daff, Kaufman and Nawrocki remain adamant they did not violate the state's sunshine law. KRDO NewsChannel 13 has contacted several lawyers who specialize in the First Amendment.
"When three City Council members (either all at one time, or in a series of emails) discuss 'public business' without providing notice to the public of that 'meeting,' and they also deny the public its right to 'attend' and observe that meeting, they are violating the Open Meetings Law. That is absolutely clear. No decision needs to be made in 'meetings' conducted via email; the fact that the Council Members are discussing public business outside of the public's view is itself unlawful under plain terms of our state statute," said Steven Steven Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
"[O]ne does not need to affirmatively 'speak" in order to be a participant in 'a meeting at which public business is discussed,'" Zansberg said. "Had Ms. Daff said she simply did not want to receive any further such communications, and that all such discussions among 3 or more council members must be done in the open, at a properly noticed public meeting, that would be a very different set of facts."
"The bottom line here is that if a council member carries a two-member discussion of public business to a third council member, then he has created a 'walking quorum' and the quorum he created is subject to the requirements of the statute," said attorney Christopher P. Beall
Nawrocki, Daff and Kaufman returned this week from a three-day trip to Oklahoma City. Severance also attended the meeting. Trip expenses for the three council members, in addition to another city employee, are expected to cost taxpayers about $4,000. The trip was funded through the city's general fund. Daff said they went on the trip to get economic development ideas.