Charter School Board Releases Executive Session Recording

Last night, November 27, at a special meeting of the Pagosa Peak Open School board of directors, the board of the community’s new charter school voted unanimously to release copies of the audio recording of the board’s November 17 executive session to the local media.

The special meeting was held at the school location, 7 Parelli Way, and was attended by SUN reporter Chris Mannara and five members of the general public.

According to the Colorado Open Meetings Law, government boards must do the public’s business in open meetings, except where public discussion might harm the interests of the taxpayers or impinge on personal rights to privacy. Those allowable situation include, among other things, discussions about ongoing or proposed real estate negotiations.

Legally, executive sessions must be preserved as an audio recording, for exactly the reasons detailed in this story.

On November 17, Chris Mannara, the reporter for the weekly Pagosa Springs SUN, had been excluded from the (supposed) executive session, and had subsequently contacted the school, suggesting that the executive session had not been properly explained in advance, as is required by the Colorado Open Meetings Law, and that a member of the public — businessman Mark Weiler — may have been improperly allowed to participate in the session.

(DISCLOSURE: The editor of the Pagosa Daily Post attended the executive session, because I’m a member of the Pagosa Peak board of directors.)

SUN editor Terri House later explained the request for the audio recording in an email addressed to the Pagosa Peak Board President Ursala Hudson. The email read, in part:

The Pagosa Springs SUN respectfully requests that Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) reconsider The SUN’s request to release the recording of the PPOS board of directors’ executive session of Nov. 17, 2017.

The topic specificity requirement as provided for in the Colorado Open Meetings law was not followed by the PPOS board of directors when entering that executive session. All that was spoken before entering the executive session was, “Now we are going to enter executive session. Per C.R.S 24-6-402(4)(b) and (4)(e) to discuss specific contractual issues.” There was no specific topic information provided…

… Prior to the session and in denying The SUN’s CORA request, the board utilized C.R.S 24-6-402(4)(e) “Determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators.” Again, PPOS didn’t state with specificity the topic that was going to be discussed in the executive session. When pressed for more information via email after the meeting, The SUN was told, “… the reason for the executive session was that we were getting advice on a potential facilities expansion, and Mark is the owner of our building.” Is there a proposed contract to expand the PPOS facility? If Weiler is the owner of the building, wouldn’t the contract be with him? If so, how can PPOS determine its negotiating position in private when he was in the room?

Discussing whether to expand the school is a policy matter that should be discussed in the open. At a minimum, PPOS should have followed the specificity requirement before entering the session, which did not happen…

Board President Ursala Hudson stated at last night’s meeting that she agreed with the SUN’s assertion that the executive session had been improperly announced. The board then voted unanimously to release copies of the recording to the local media.

The recording includes a presentation by Pagosa Peak School Director James Lewicki about the possibility that the school might be able to purchase the Parelli Building, under a plan proposed by Parelli Properties. Businessman Mark Weiler, who is a partner in Parelli Properties, also took part in the closed door discussion, noting that he had been able to arrange underwriting for a possible loan. The price of the building was quoted as $4.7 million.

Following the executive session, the Pagosa Peak board reconvened in open session and voted to authorize School Director Lewicki to discuss the expansion possibility with Archuleta School District (ASD) Superintendent Linda Reed. That discussion had been scheduled for yesterday morning, November 27, but was subsequently rescheduled.

ASD is the authorizing district for the charter school.

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.