Aurora lawmakers end censure action against council member during ‘flagrant’ open meetings violation

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Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky on the council dais Monday March 14, 2022, after the city council met in closed session. SENTINEL SCREEN GRAB

AURORA | A majority of Aurora’s City Council voted in private on Monday to dismiss a censure process pending against Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky — a vote that experts say was illegal under state transparency laws.

Jurinsky’s attorney, David Lane, as well as councilmembers Alison Coombs and Juan Marcano all said the group decided to end the censure process in a closed session prior to the start of their March 14 regular meeting.

According to Coombs and Marcano, Mayor Mike Coffman asked individual council members whether they supported the process continuing, and after a majority said they did not, the city attorney said the process would be formally halted.

Steve Zansberg, a Denver attorney and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the vote needed to have been public to be legitimate.

“The ‘roll call vote’ of all city council members on whether they supported or opposed moving forward on the censure investigation is a flagrant, black-and-white, open-and-shut violation of the Open Meetings Law,” Zansberg wrote in an email.

State law bars local public bodies from making such decisions in private, said the coalition’s executive director, Jeff Roberts. He cited a statute that generally prohibits groups from adopting “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action” in closed session.

Officially, the council convened the session to “receive legal advice on specific legal questions,” which is one of a handful of reasons for which local governments can legally meet in private.

“If they were going in there for legal advice, that’s what it should have been for, to get answers to specific questions from their attorney,” Roberts said. “They’re not supposed to be making decisions in executive sessions.”

When asked how City Attorney Dan Brotzman’s office would justify the council reaching its decision in executive session, city spokesman Ryan Luby wrote in an email Thursday that “voting is not permitted in executive session, but Council can and will provide direction to legal counsel.”

“City staff cannot disclose attorney-client discussions,” he wrote. “However, outside legal counsel is handling this matter and is meeting with Council Member Jurinsky’s attorneys. We anticipate an update at Monday’s Study Session.”

“Courts across the nation have held that a public body must vote, in public, to provide direction to its attorney’s about whether to file a lawsuit or an appeal,” Zansberg said in his email. “Directing the city attorney to terminate an active censure process is no different.”

Council rules also stipulate that, while an executive session can be called to receive legal advice regarding the process of disciplining an elected official, “no action or decision may occur in the executive session.”

Coombs and Marcano both said Brotzman was present during the executive session and that the decision was reached after the mayor asked each individual council member whether they supported the censure process being halted. The topic of the censure did not come up during the portion of the March 14 meeting that was open to the public.

Marcano initiated the censure process in late January after Jurinsky insulted police chief Vanessa Wilson on a regional talk radio program and told listeners she believed Wilson and deputy chief Darin Parker should be removed from office.

Jurinsky also detailed a meeting with Wilson where she encouraged the chief to replace Parker.

In response, Marcano accused Jurinsky of violating a council regulation that requires members to act “in a professional manner” toward city staffers as well as a section of the charter that bars council members from meddling in the appointment of employees who fall under the authority of the city manager.

Once Marcano formally started the process of censuring Jurinsky — which would have had to earn the support of a majority of council members before the councilwoman faced any discipline — attorneys with Burns, Figa and Will hired by the city started investigating and gathering evidence that could have been presented in a hearing on the topic.

Lane warned in February that Jurinsky would consider suing Marcano and the city if the censure process wasn’t halted by March 4, a deadline that was later extended to the 14th.

On Monday, according to Coombs and Marcano, Jurinsky began arguing with the investigating attorneys and Brotzman before any of the evidence gathered could be presented.

Jurinsky did not respond to requests for an interview on Thursday.

Coombs and Marcano said council members opposed to the censure characterized the process as a waste of taxpayer money.

While Mayor Mike Coffman at one point suggested the matter be discussed more at an upcoming study session, the two said he ultimately asked each member whether they thought the process should continue — all but Coombs, Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo said they did not, those present said.

Marcano later called Monday’s session a “naked show of partisan corruption.” 

“I think this would have served a really good public purpose,” he said of the council opting instead to decide on the censure in private. “This whole thing was a clown show. … It was effectively a roll-call vote.”

“It was a pretty bizarre meeting,” Coombs said. “This turned into a purely political process.”

Marcano said the city is now working with Lane to settle the process, and that a letter of stipulation could be released Friday.

According to Luby, Brotzman’s office will present “an update” on the censure process at the council’s study session on Monday.

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Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
8 months ago

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.“

– John Adams

John in Denver
John in Denver
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Brown

Adams would have preferred to be able to do things without a formed opposition group. Some sizeable part of his opinion links to the Constitutional arrangement of that time: Adams, a Federalist, had a Vice President of Jefferson, a Democratic Republican. There were a few tensions.

sugar
sugar
8 months ago

it sure seems like Council Member Jurinsky is her own worst enemy – can’t keep her mouth shut. Should be a very interesting 4 years for her.

Roberta Johnson
Roberta Johnson
8 months ago

I smell a lawsuit against the Mayor and the Ring Wing Council Members especially Jurinsky who’s an obvious nut job and who has no idea what she’s doing. This fighting between the right and left has got to stop. Do what you were elected to do or step aside and allow others to do what’s right for the great City of Aurora. Hiding behind closed doors, doing illegal business behind closed doors is like Watergate all over.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
8 months ago

Jurinsky needs to control herself and watch her mouth, and the entire council needs to act above board and in compliance with state law. These people may think they can do as they wish, but the citizens are watching and we expect appropriate behavior.

GeneD
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

She is unfit in both intellect and temperament. But maybe the cultists who elected her are happy with what they got. At least she doesn’t brag about ‘grabbing them by the *******’ like her role model.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

So as usual, break the rules , get an attorney, threaten big time, have the conservative majority back your rule breaking. What’s next?

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
8 months ago

WOW…Now we are having fun!!!.

Name calling at its best, back and forth. And to think we have the biggest name caller lawyer for the past 20 years in Colorado involved, David Lane.

Let it be or it turns into a much bigger joke. Maybe the joke is indeed on us, the citizens of Aurora.

sugar
sugar
8 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Isn’t David Lane Jurinsky’s attorney? Wonder if he’ll
continue to represent her once he sees she’s nuts.

Karen
Karen
8 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Given your past comments, Dick, I’m pretty sure you voted for Jurinsky and don’t regret it.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
8 months ago
Reply to  Karen

Yes, Karen, absolutely true. Being a past restaurant owner myself and bar patron, I just love her style. A bit of entertainment along with my type of politics just couldn’t make me more pleased.

Can’t wait for the next election, to get two more right wing candidates to be elected at-large. That seems to be the trend. Not sure that Angela’s voting with the socialists, so often, will allow her another term.

sugar
sugar
8 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Angela won’t be running again – she’s served the applicable number of terms.

GeneD
8 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Keep your words sweet and soft, Dick, as I’m sure you’ll have to eat them.

Doug King
Doug King
8 months ago

a very abbreviated ANIMAL FARM: neglected animals rebel and run the farm themselves with one important qualification: everyone should be equal. there’s immediate conflict the All Powerful Dominant Boss Leader exploit the other animals shamelessly, breaking all the rules about equality that they had established after the Rebellion END result is chaos and strive – sound familiar?

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
8 months ago

What am I missing here? One council member considered and began the process of trying to get another council member censured. After discussing with the council as a whole it was decided this would be a waste of time and taxpayer money (getting her censured wasn’t going to happen). And somehow this constitutes a vote? And violates open meeting laws? Straining at a gnat on a technicality for something in the public’s best interest.

Doug King
Doug King
8 months ago
Reply to  Brent G Taylor

I post here for you as you apparently did not read the entire article?
“Steve Zansberg, a Denver attorney and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the vote needed to have been public to be legitimate.
“The ‘roll call vote’ of all city council members on whether they supported or opposed moving forward on the censure investigation is a flagrant, black-and-white, open-and-shut violation of the Open Meetings Law,” Zansberg wrote in an email.”

cammy1938
8 months ago

Council cares not at all about the citizens of Aurora. . everything they do is waste of taxpayer money. when will the voters wake up and elect a decent, hard-working council? they probably think they are working hard but they certainly are not/

sugar
sugar
8 months ago
Reply to  cammy1938

Council Member Jurinsky has a clear conflict when
dealing with grants to small businesses. She doesn’t want any business to get kitchens or grease traps.
She owns three bars and/or restaurants, and should
recuse herself from this matter. Wonder if she’ll get
by with it?

Dean
8 months ago
Reply to  sugar

Let’s say, she does pass on any Aurora business involved voting for building improvements. She’s probably leasing and not the owner of these buildings. Any upgrades go to the building and become permanent, despite used grease traps are high in demand items we all want to own? So, is it fair to her landlord to cause him to not get any benefit by her off the dais to the voting? What has the landlord done wrong? And she has been fully transparent as far as her business dealing in the city from the get-go. Her fund raising has been open for any inspection. Her and CM Sundberg, have been under more scrutinization than most, because they operate private enterprises for a profit, as that seems to be a crime nowadays…