Sentinel Colorado files request in district court for judge to decide Aurora City Council illegal meeting question

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AURORA  | Attorneys for Sentinel Colorado have asked a district court judge to determine whether to make public the recording of a closed city council meeting where lawmakers discussed and ended the censure process of a fellow council person.

The Sentinel and attorneys from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press contend the meeting violated state open meeting laws, and that the decision to end the process of censure against Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky occurred during an illegal, secret vote among lawmakers.

“The facts of the case speak for themselves as to the legality and appropriateness of handling such a public matter in private,” Sentinel Editor and Publisher Dave Perry said previously. “The censure of an elected official demands the public’s attention, and the public was wrongly deprived of that opportunity by holding this meeting and making a crucial decision in secret.”  

Neither the city nor courts have officially responded to the Sentinel’s request.

Aurora city attorneys have defended the closed meeting and said no formal action was taken by lawmakers when they decided to curtail the censure process against Jurinsky.

City council members approved a measure two weeks ago that essentially allows a judge to listen to a recording of the March 14 city council meeting and determine whether it should be made public. 

Attorneys for The Sentinel said they’re confident that at least part, and likely all, of the recording will be released because the city did not meet criteria for holding the meeting in secret.

“Because the action taken behind closed-doors, and in secret, was in violation of the (Colorado Open Meetings Law), the record of the discussion, the recording, and all other meeting materials must be made available for public inspection,” attorney Rachael Johnson said in previous demands to the city.

According to prior reporting from The Sentinel, a majority of Aurora’s City Council agreed in private in a closed session at the beginning of their March 14 meeting to dismiss a censure process pending against  Jurinsky. 

Sentinel attorneys argue that the agreement, taken during a roll call by the mayor during the closed meeting, constitutes an illegal vote. 

The city council also gave direction to city staff to work with Jurinsky’s attorney to reach a settlement to pay her legal fees.

City legal officials have argued that the roll call was an effort to solicit opinions about the censure process but no actual vote occurred, despite the agreement halting the censure from going forward. According to Councilmembers Juan Marcano and Alison Coombs, 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 who specializes in media law and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told The Sentinel that the vote needed to be public to be legitimate and was a “flagrant, black-and-white, open-and-shut violation of the Open Meetings Law.”

The censure was initiated by Marcano regarding Jurinsky’s comments on a regional conservative talk radio program in January, where she called former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson “trash” and called for her and deputy chief Darin Parker to be removed from their posts.

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.

Jurinsky described the censure attempt as an infringement on her First Amendment rights and retained attorney David Lane, who warned that she would consider suing Marcano and the city if the censure process wasn’t halted by March 4, later pushed back to March 14.

 

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