The secrecy, scheming and political exploits among Aurora City Council members involved in a sordid effort to undermine a censure charge against Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky have gone too far.
Either the city attorney or the city council members themselves need to come clean on a growing list of dubious and illegal stunts, or the state’s attorney general needs to step in on behalf of city residents and taxpayers.
The debacle surrounding Jurinsky started in earnest with her Jan. 27 appearance on a local talk radio show.
Jurinsky spent considerable on-air time disparaging changes in Aurora’s beleaguered police department, which has entered into a consent decree with the state’s attorney general to make numerous reforms. The mandates came after a long investigation revealing patterns of racism, malfeasance, accountability and shrouding information.
During the radio show, KNUS host Steffan Tubbs asked Jurinsky how she would fix staffing and other problems in the police department.
“We remove the chief immediately, and with her takes out the trash of the deputy chief of police, Darin Parker.”
Jurinsky said that during a recent lunch with Wilson, she prodded the chief to sack Parker.
“I said, ‘Even a bigger problem than you, chief, may be your appointed deputy police chief,’” Jurinsky told Tubbs. “‘He may be the bigger problem. What do you think about, as a show of faith, you know, that you mean business, and you want to change, and you want to stop losing all of these officers on your watch, why don’t we reappoint someone else and try to start fresh?’”
Aurora operates under a council-manager form of government. City council members make policy. City staff implement it. City lawmakers are precluded from intervening or interfering in city operations and personnel matters.
When her city council political foe Councilmember Juan Marcano began a formal process of censure against Jurinsky, in part because of her comments, she claimed the issue was one of free speech.
Jurinsky is right. She’s free to say whatever she wants, but Marcano’s argument was compelling in that Jurinsky’s comments were a confession to interfering in city personnel issues.
Whether the comments warranted formal censure was a matter for the city council.
They never rightfully decided the question.
The city attorney’s office hired outside counsel for fact-finding. In the meantime, Jurinsky announced she’d hired an attorney, and she indicated she would sue either Marcano, the city or both to stop the proceedings.
On March 14, the city council met in executive session to talk about the censure issue, a dubious move to begin with, given that the public has every right to understand the allegations and any defense Jurinsky could offer.
During the meeting, according to not only city council members there, but staff as well, outside attorneys were supposed to provide some details on fact-finding, shedding light on Marcano’s claims and Jurinsky’s public admissions, and provide counsel to city lawmakers on legal ramifications, dangers and options.
They did none of that, according to multiple sources.
It instead, reportedly, became a surreal shouting match with Jurinsky angrily making a variety of claims, including that her own attorney should have accompanied her in the closed city council meeting.
City code allows for council members to meet in executive session for advice from their attorney. But just having an attorney in the room does not create an exemption to the state’s open meeting law.
Why a member of council threatening to sue the city and other members of city council would be permitted to glean information as a possible plaintiff in a lawsuit from opposing counsel is mind boggling, but it’s not the biggest problem.
According to lawmakers and staff in the room, at one point Mayor Mike Coffman polled each council member about the issue. The city council was split on ending the censure procedure then, but those wanting to stop the proceedings prevailed. It was what Colorado open meeting law experts said was a flagrant abuse of meeting laws, convening action in secret.
It gets worse.
Although the city council had illegally decided in a closed meeting to end the censure proceedings, a remaining question had to be answered in open session addressing Jurinsky’s claims that the city must reimburse her $16,000 for her attorney fees.
The city’s laws spell it out just like this: “if after a public hearing … a violation has not been established, the Council Member who is the subject of the (censure) hearing shall be entitled to reimbursement from the City for all reasonable attorney fees incurred in his or her defense.”
There was no public hearing on the matter. There was no formal accusation of charges for Jurinsky to defend against. There was no defense by her counsel on the charges that were never made clear. The city never even allowed for investigative work that it apparently paid another $16,000 or so for to talk about what if any findings were gleaned.
The gist of these council rules is that a lawmaker accused and acquitted of wrongdoing would be subject to reimbursement of legal fees.
There was no hearing and no acquittal. There should be no reimbursement until the city attorney makes a good faith effort to investigate allegations against Jurinsky and a public hearing is held to weigh any evidence.
The entire debacle is a shoddy abuse of state open meeting laws and the public’s trust.
City council members should insist that the city attorney and clerk immediately release a recording of the closed meeting.
It would first allow the public to decide how detrimental the violations and misdirections are. Making public the recording could help determine whether the city’s violations warrant investigation by the state attorney general to protect the public’s interest, since, clearly, the city council majority won’t do that.
The public has every right to expect each city council member to respect and honor the spirit and the letter of Colorado open meeting laws.
Nothing good comes from conducting the public’s business behind closed doors. Few things are as important as having a clear, open understanding of every official move their elected representatives make, especially when those actions become clouded with suspicion.
Release the secret meeting recordings so the public can judge for themselves what some city lawmakers have gone to great lengths to avoid doing.