Sentinel Colorado threatens lawsuit against Aurora, demanding private censure discussion recording be made public

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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 | Attorneys for Sentinel Colorado and the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press insisted in a letter sent to the City of Aurora Wednesday that a recording of a closed-door meeting regarding the censure of a city council member be released to the public.

If the recording is not released, The Sentinel will seek court action and request for a judge to determine whether all or parts of the recording should be made public, the letter states.

“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 the letter addressed to City Attorney Dan Brotzman

According to prior reporting from The Sentinel, a majority of Aurora’s City Council voted in private in a closed session at the beginning of their March 14 meeting to dismiss a censure process pending against Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky. The council also gave direction to city staff to work with Jurinsky’s attorney to reach a settlement to pay her legal fees.

Steve Zansberg, a Denver attorney who specializes in media law and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told The Sentinel in March 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.”

Representatives for the city attorney’s office have claimed that there was no misconduct, and that the city council had acted within the law.

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.

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 his post.

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.

Sentinel reporter Max Levy originally sent a records request to the city March 18 asking for a recording of the portion of the executive session pertaining to Jurinsky’s censure. In a March 22 email, Aurora City Clerk Kadee Rodriguez denied the request, saying that the recording “is privileged attorney/client communication and is exempt from disclosure.”

In her letter, Johnson rebuked that claim. She said the city violated open meeting laws by failing to disclose the subject matter of the legal advice to be discussed in executive session, which would not be a violation of attorney-client privilege in and of itself.

Additionally, based on The Sentinel’s reporting of what took place during that private meeting, Johnson said it does not appear that the city council was actually discussing privileged information during the executive session, but was instead discussing whether to shelve the censure process. This is a violation of open meeting law, she said.

The city also violated open meeting law by taking a roll call vote while in executive session to determine whether Jurinsky’s censure process should go forward, Johnson said. Under Colorado law, elected officials are not permitted to take formal action while in executive session.

She pushed back on the city’s assertion that the city council is allowed to “give direction” to staff in executive session as long as they do not formally vote, citing a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that directing a public body to take action during a closed session constitutes a formal action and is a violation of transparency laws.

“In light of all of the above, under both the COML and the (Colorado Open Records Act), the Council’s actions with respect to the March 14 executive session were unlawful and its decision to prevent my clients from inspecting the recording of that session is unfounded,” Johnson said.

Since the meeting issue became public, Jurinsky has indicated she may seek a censure effort against Marcano for disclosing information to the mediaMOVE. 

At press time, the city had yet to respond to the request.

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Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
9 months ago

Thank you, for we so profoundly need watchdogs guarding the truth in Aurora and across the country.

DICK MOORE
9 months ago

All will be blown out of proportion as long as Marcano and Coombs have a say on any subject. He said, she said, will persist because they both believe that they have the only answers and react with malice when you disagree.

I hope the residents of Ward IV and V understand this and will help vote them out of office next November, so we can get respectable representation.

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
9 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

If I can… sure miss Bob Roth. We didn’t agree on everything, but he could be trusted and had respect.

Bo Broth
Bo Broth
9 months ago
Reply to  Brent G Taylor

Lol, did Bob Roth make a fake account to comment on the Sentinel? Is that you, Bob???

Bob Roth literally sold special access to the city to the highest bidder while he was on Council. There were repeated public scandals about his personal profiteering and corruption. “Trusted”? “Respected”? Nah. Those words don’t describe Bob Roth at all.

Beau
Beau
9 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Do you realize the irony of saying “he said, she said…” when they’re arguing to set the record straight by releasing a recording?

sugar
sugar
9 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Give it a rest Dick – we know how you feel about
Council Members Marcano and Combs. You sound like a broken record – over and over!

sugar
sugar
9 months ago

If Council and Attorney Brotzman did nothing wrong, why not release the tape of the Executive Committee
meeting?

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
9 months ago
Reply to  sugar

Maybe they didn’t record it… as in, off the record, this is waste of time and money so let’s not do this. Duh!

GeneD
9 months ago
Reply to  Brent G Taylor

There should be no ‘off the record’ for these types of meetings.

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
9 months ago

Every time I go to read anything on this site I’m asked to donate money… money you’ll now waste on this stupidity. Jurinsky maybe was out of line talking on the radio… not sure how that was news as such topics were part of her campaign and arguably her views were responsible for her election to council. Marcano then seeks to waste taxpayer dollars and time to censure her. She obtains legal help for something that should have never needed it. Council sits around INFORMALLY and realizes pursuing this would waste more money. You don’t need a recording to tell you what happened. Certainly not worth trying to cram this in as a open meeting laws violation; not worth wasting time; not worth Sentinel dollars or more tax dollars from the city responding.

DROP IT!!!

And the sooner we send nutjob Marcano packing along with Coombs (my ward) the better. That we un-do the mistakes of earlier elections that turned city politics partisan. Long for the days, not that many years ago, when we didn’t really know the political affiliation of council members — because… what do you know? city politics has NOTHING to do with Democrats, liberals, Republicans, conservatives… our issues as city do not align with such things and SHOULDN’T.

sugar
sugar
9 months ago
Reply to  Brent G Taylor

Council Member Jurinsky was MAYBE out of line?
Come on, you know better.

The Charter specifically states that Council Members
don’t have the right to suggest anyone being fired.
Have you heard her interview on the radio? Listen
to it, and get back to us.

Robert L Andrews
Robert L Andrews
9 months ago

Odd how the Democrats were anti-Chief Wilson just a year and half ago and now they have flipped the script. As the POTUS has said numerous times, “Come on, man.”