BRIGHTON, Colo. — The city of Brighton might have violated its own city charter and state law concerning its attempt to go into executive session at an Oct. 2 city council meeting.
The Problem Solvers were tipped off to make a public records request for audio recordings of that meeting because it might shed light on the city’s effort to fire City Manager Philip Rodriguez at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The Brighton City Council voted 5-3 last week to suspend Rodriquez for unspecified personnel issues with intentions to formally terminate him Tuesday.
Supporters of Rodriguez suspect the real reason Mayor Ken Kreutzer and a majority of the council want to fire Rodriguez is because he exposed the existence of a $70 million fund created by water overcharges to residents.
The council voted 5-4 to go into executive session on Oct. 2. Under state law, though, members of a local public body can’t convene an executive session unless there is two-thirds support.
Colorado Municipal Law states “the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the quorum present” meaning Brighton would’ve needed a 6-3 super-majority to go into executive session.
Otherwise, the meeting automatically becomes a public subject to “the public disclosure requirements of the open meetings law.”
Some audio recordings of the Oct. 2 meeting were obtained where a voice can be heard saying, “It’s passed by a vote of 5-4. We will go into executive session then return to the meeting.”
On a later recording, a voice can be heard saying, “The time is now 9:36 (p.m.) the executive session has been concluded.”
But the recordings of the so-called executive session were not provided despite a Colorado Opens Record request.
“The executive session was recorded and retained for the required period of time,” Brighton City Clerk Natalie Hoel said in an email. “The recording no longer exists, making it impossible to provide.”
But according to FOX31 legal analyst and First Amendment attorney Steven Zansberg, “If a local public body, like the city of Brighton’s City Council, did not ‘strictly adhere’ to the statutory requirements for convening an executive session (including a vote by two-third of the quorum present to conduct an executive session), then the closed-door meeting that follows that failure is a public meeting that was unlawfully closed to the public.”
On Tuesday, Kreutzer spoke about the October meeting.
“Let’s call it a mistake. It wasn’t my intent to step around state law. I was totally unaware of it until just a few days ago. I apologize. I can’t take it back,” he said.
City Clerk Natalie Hoel acknowledged that they typically save executive session recordings for 90 days, but she did not acknowledge that the Oct. 2 meeting was technically not an executive session. It was a public meeting that should have been saved for longer.
If Rodriguez is fired without cause his contract states, “The employee shall be entitled to nine months salary,” which means he could be owed about $143,000 of his $190,550 annual salary.
The contract also states Rodriguez be given an opportunity to address the city council in a public forum before he’s fired, something his attorney says Rodriguez intends to do.
A number of Brighton residents have organized a Recall Rally at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to collect signatures for recall petition to oust Kreutzer.
Supporters need to collect about 1,150 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election.