EDITORIAL: Plotting in secret against Aurora Elijah McClain protesters is anathema to good governing

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Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman on Monday pitched what has to be the worst idea yet about how best to handle Elijah McClain protests that are becoming increasingly dangerous to everyone.

While council members were being briefed by city officials on how a recent protest devolved into gunfire, cars rushing into demonstrators on a busy interstate and, ultimately, base vandalism at city hall, Coffman pitched a scheme: Hold secret meetings with city council members, city officials and police to plot against protesters.

Coffman said the ongoing security issues rise to the level of being discussed in closed meetings.

Don’t.

“Tactics, or strategy, is a sensitive issue,” Coffman said Monday, and he added that protesters and the public need only know that Aurora intends to balance protecting property and showing force, the Sentinel reported Monday.

First, it would be an abuse, possibly an illegal one, of the city and state’s open meeting laws. City lawmakers are permitted very few exceptions to the statute that makes clear all city meetings must be held in public.

Unlike negotiating a land deal, taking advice on a pending lawsuit from attorneys or dealing with sensitive personnel matters, the city council is not permitted to huddle behind closed doors to plot strategies with police against citizens.

Nor, would it be a wise idea to do such a thing even if it were legal. While these protests focus on the night three Aurora police officers confronted Elijah McClain and caused his death, the larger issue has to do with systemic racism, police transparency and accountability.

It’s difficult to imagine a bigger public relations disaster than carrying out what Coffman is proposing.

The mayor comes to Aurora’s city government via a long career in state and federal government. He was the region’s congressional representative before he became the city’s mayor. Unlike the inner workings of Congress, the city council’s sole jobs are to create and enact policy, and pass spending bills. It’s the job only of professional city managers, including police, to carry out those policies. By design, the council-manager form of government removes elected, political officials from the mix when it comes to running the city.

Aurora’s hyper-partisan and rarely cohesive — or even civil — group of council lawmakers is not the place to handle the incredibly complicated and virtually unsolvable dilemma Aurora police now find themselves in.

We agree that handling these protests is about as difficult a public safety issue that there can be. With police being the target of these protests, they cannot win by scuttling them when they become violent or dangerous. And they continue to become violent and dangerous. 

It’s important, however, for the public and city officials to remember that most police are not corrupt, and most of these protesters are not vandals.

These protests and dozens like them across the nation have created an unparalleled window of opportunity for meaningful civil rights advancement and police reform. Every elected leader should be striving to do everything possible to push those goals forward. Every protester should laud every step forward Aurora and the region make. 

It’s critical for city lawmakers to glean information about the police handling of protests, comment on it and, as the representatives of residents, even help shape policy for how police should handle the situation. Public discourse on the issue, allowing everyone to understand the complicated facts of the quagmire would be helpful for everyone in the region.

It would, however, be an unparalleled mistake to do any of that in secret. 

 

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