PERRY: Aurora has a secret, and The Sentinel is determined to tell it to you — with the help of the courts

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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

The Sentinel would love to tell you what went on behind closed doors at city hall in January before city lawmakers agreed to pay $16,000 to a fellow lawmaker being rebuked for trash-talking then-police chief Vanessa Wilson on talk radio.

First, when The Sentinel sued the city to force them to provide the recording of a closed meeting among council members, which clearly violated the spirit and letter of Colorado open meeting laws, we won our case. Briefly.

The Sentinel is still fighting the mystery.

This all started earlier this year when Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky appeared Jan. 27 on a local right-wing talk radio show.

Jurinsky spent considerable on-air time disparaging changes in Aurora’s beleaguered police department. 

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.”

She also called now-former police chief Vanessa Wilson “trash.”

Wilson was later fired by the Aurora city manager, who insists it had nothing to do with Jurinsky’s pressure. Parker retired after Wilson was sacked.

The radio talk and other events prompted fellow Councilmember Juan Marcano to seek censure proceedings against Jurinsky.

Jurinsky said her comments were free speech. Marcano said she crossed a line and was improperly interfering with Aurora government, including admitting that she tried to persuade Wilson to replace Parker.

And so Jurisnky lawyered up with local attorney David Lane. The city hired outside lawyers to begin the process of finding out just whether Jurinsky’s behavior and meetings actually did violate city regs.

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 city council members and staff there, attorneys were supposed to provide details on fact-finding, shedding light on Marcano’s claims and Jurinsky’s public admissions. 

They did none of that, according to multiple sources.

Instead, reportedly, the secret meeting became a verbal melee with Jurinsky making a variety of claims, including that her own attorney should have accompanied her in the closed city council meeting.

This really happened, witnesses said.

After time spent arguing, but before paid outside city lawyers could present any evidence on the allegations against Jurinsky, Mayor Mike Coffman polled city council members on whether to kill the whole thing.

When you’re an elected official, it’s called voting. When you’re defending the city’s improper vote behind closed doors, it’s called “polling.”

When The Sentinel demanded a recording of the meeting to find out what was said to persuade lawmakers against a censure process that, under city law, must be carried out in public, we were told that it was a legally private matter because attorneys were in the room.

A week later, the city, in public session, without explaining, agreed to pay Jurinsky $16,000 tax dollars to hire Lane to defend her for allegations the public only read about here and never heard about in a required meeting.

So The Sentinel, backed by lawyers from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, asked a local court to decide whether Aurora violated open meetings law by allow city council members to decide, in secret, a measure that would hand over $16,000 to a fellow lawmaker to defend against allegations that the city paid to research and probably even considered.

On July 26, Arapahoe County Judge District Court Judge Elizabeth Beebe Volz agreed with The Sentinel and ordered the city to come clean.

Sort of.

Rather than ruling that the city violated the open meeting law, the judge ruled the city had not posted the closed meeting correctly, under state law.

“The Court finds that the subject of the Executive Session was to receive information from counsel on the process to be followed in addressing a censure complaint. The Council did not ‘vote’ on ending the censure action as alleged in the Sentinel’s complaint, however, there was a roll-call taken on what direction to give to legal counsel on how to proceed. While this action might very well fall into the category of legal advice, the Court is still faced with the fact that the announcement of the Executive Session does not appear to comply with the requirements of the applicable statutes.”

Then Beebe Volz essentially asked whether that was OK with Aurora.

“The Court is, however, also mindful of the special status attorney-client communications hold and therefore will grant the Council an opportunity to consider the Court’s ruling prior to release, in order to take any action they deem appropriate,” Beene Volz wrote.

They said “no.” Last week, Beebe Volz agreed.

“Here, it appears clear to the Court that the March 28, 2022 public meeting of the Council clearly identified what took place at the March 14, 2022 executive session and that the Council publicly considered the proposed action to adopt a stipulation to terminate any further investigation into Council Member Jurinsky’s conduct,” Beebe Volz said in the ruling.

Clearly, the city did not offer any detail or explanation to the public in its March 28 meeting, according to tapes and reports of that public session.

And despite the judge giving Aurora a temporary win on an onerous technicality, we’re determined to force the city to tell the public what went on inside that meeting.

Who stopped the city’s attorneys from presenting what they gleaned during their investigation? What were the arguments made by city lawmakers in defense of and against Jurinsky’s behavior? Who considered it good government to award a fellow lawmaker $16,000?

City law unequivocally makes clear that a city council member can be awarded legal fees to defend against censure only after the case is adjudicated — publicly — by fellow lawmakers, and only after the accused city lawmakers is acquitted  by a vote.

That never happened, unless it happened in the secret meeting.

We’re not done yet. We’re weighing our next legal steps.

Not only are rulings on cases like this important to Aurora, making clear that the public’s business must be conducted in public, but it’s critical for every resident in the state.

Allowing Aurora lawmakers to secretly decide one another’s political fates, and spend taxpayer money on consequences, is anathema to open, responsible government.

The fastest and easiest way forward is for the city to just release the recordings of this secret meeting without a court forcing them. Doing the right thing in the future will be much easier by just deciding to do the right thing now. All that takes is six votes on the city council.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

Read the court documents here:

2022-05-23 13-57-04 Application re. The Sentinel 052322

2022-06-13 10-49-21 Answer-061322

Order Concerning Release of Executive Session Recording

Plaintiff’s Response to Motion for Reconsideration 08292022

Order Granting the City’s Motion for Reconsideration

2022-09-02 13-25-58 Reply AttyClient-090222-Final

Plaintiff’s Brief 7.11.22

 

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Dena L McClung
Dena L McClung
2 months ago

So nice to see this spelled out in clear, common-sense language instead of confusing legalese. Thank you.

Dennis Duffy
Dennis Duffy
2 months ago

Truthfully I could care less. Executive sessions have a purpose and that os why they are allowable. This is more of baby Dave Perry whining about what he can’t control. It’s always the same narrattive with these clowns. It’s just so incredibly tedious .

As an aside
I think Aurora police are loosers in every respect

No one likes them
No one respects them
They and their politician fool masters screw up everything because they think they are always CORRECT somehow

I want a police force but I want a professional organization not these clowns .

Jponce
Jponce
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Duffy

It was less about the executive session and more about a city council member getting $16k of my tax dollars to defend herself legally against allegations of trash talking another public official. This woman clearly has a personal agenda, and like many in her party, she cannot remove that from her job. Her job is to further progress for all of Aurora, not just for her and her friends.
The fact that they did this in an “executive session” speaks volumes!

Q. Robinson
Q. Robinson
2 months ago
Reply to  Jponce

Very well said. Thanks

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
2 months ago

You see, this is what republicans do. They waste money on frivolous things that benefit their cause, such as defending their own in the wake of inappropriate actions.

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Oh really, Joe? Which council members boondoggled their way to Paris recently? Murillo and Marcano. Who did the same to junket to El Salvador last year? Marcano and Coombs. Not a Republican among them. Waste money to benefit their cause much?

Bart Emanuel
Bart Emanuel
2 months ago

Coffman led the delegation to El Salvador. You’re clearly not paying attention or being dishonest. Which is it?

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
1 month ago
Reply to  Bart Emanuel

You’re right. I misspoke. The mayor of the city did indeed make that trip as the representative figurehead of the city. Mea culpa. What value did Marcano and Coombs add?

Tawny Fox
Tawny Fox
2 months ago

You know Coffman was on that El Salvador trip, right?

Fact Check
Fact Check
2 months ago

Your facts are wrong.

It is not only normal, but expected for members of City Councils to travel as part of their job.

In the last two years, Republican Councilmembers from Aurora have travelled to:
Mexico City
El Salvador
San Antonio
Houston
Buena Vista
Washington DC
Vail

And this is not an exhaustive list, it is possible there has been more travel. There are many reasons for business travel in a Councilmember’s job besides junkets – of the Republican trips, a few of them could be described as a junket, but the El Salvador trip is not one of them. Republican Mike Coffman lead the El Salvador delegation, which had no meetings with lobbyists at all, and Councilmembers’ attended meetings about diplomatic and international business.

The Washington DC trip cost the city the most, and it was clearly a junket. Each member of the Republicans on council spent more city money to attend the 3-day Washington DC junket than Marcano spent to attend the 5-day city management conference in France, and SIX Republicans chose to go on that trip together – the overall cost to the taxpayer for the Washington trip was almost SIX TIMES the cost of the France trip. Marcano has presented hours of material that he gained at the France conference to the public and at policy committees, and he has proposed legislation and policy changes that were learned on that trip – he has shown that entire time he was on the conference trip, he attended business meetings with French city officials and conference presentations and meetings about city business. The Republican caucus that went to the Washington DC junket have not made any presentation or shown any value to the city of their wildly expensive trip for six – in fact, all they have shared about it is some social media shots of a luncheon in five star hotel with lobbyists and an actual yacht party. Which one of these is a boondoggle again?

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
1 month ago
Reply to  Fact Check

Arnie, is that you?

Don
Don
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

No

Bret H Hamilton
Bret H Hamilton
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

And then they complain about “tax and spend” liberals.

Michael L Moore
Michael L Moore
2 months ago

By hiding in a closed meeting, the conservative majority demonstrates the illegitimate stewardship of their elected positions. Further, they abet Ms. Jurinski’s continued outrageous outbursts. It is obvious she is an unhappy person, but the citizens of Aurora shouldn’t continue to be burdened by her acrimony! I wish the Sentinel well in its pursuit of the truth. We deserve it!

GeneD
2 months ago

So, imagine what the ReTrumplicants could do should they win Secretary of State, Governor, Senate or House seats in the upcoming elections.

Remember in November.

Don
Don
2 months ago
Reply to  GeneD

How old are you? 10?

GeneD
1 month ago
Reply to  Don

WTF?

Berv
Berv
2 months ago

I appreciate the Sentinel continuing to fight for information about this horrible mess that Jurinsky created and Jim Twombly and Mike Coffman made worse by appeasing her temper tantrum.

Danielle Jurinsky broke the charter by trying to pressure Twombly into firing Wilson, clear as day. She broke the rules and the charter of the city, she broke her oath as a Councilmember. Her cronies on Council tried to sweep it under the rug in private meetings. They dont want to talk about it in public meetings because they know there is no defense for her actions – it’s a really simple rule that she broke. Maybe she can say what she wants about Wilson under free speech, but in her role as a Councilmember, she can’t say that a staff member of the city must be fired. That’s against the rules, it’s overreach and it’s misuse if elected power to influence staffing decisions. She opened up the whole city to really serious employment law liabilities. She broke the rules, and she then pressured her Council buddies to break more rules to hide it.

What makes me the maddest is not only that she’s getting away with breaking the charter and her oaths, but that no one is talking about how much she broke the whole system when she did it. Our problems with finding a police chief are a DIRECT RESULT of Jurinsky’s rule breaking and corruption, because no good Chief wants to be in a position where any Councilperson can pressure the City Manager to fire you.

It’s ironic that Jurinsky is the one pounding the gavel and going crazy about punishments and accountability for rule-breakers, saying that strict sentences are the only thing to stop lawlessness in Aurora – when she’s the one who won’t take accountability for her own blatant rule-breaking. The best thing for this city and this police department would be if Jurinsky were to be judged and sentenced for HER lawlessness. We need the state or a higher authority to intervene to charge her (or whatever the legal process there would be) and hold her accountable, if her cronies on Council are too afraid of her next temper tantrum to do it.

Q. Robinson
Q. Robinson
2 months ago

Sounds to me like there is something that someone doesn’t want the public to hear and whatever was said was inappropriate. That’s why the lawyer was requested

Doug King
Doug King
2 months ago

only six votes (poll’s? 🙂 ) which are in the hands of the conservatives

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
2 months ago

Citizens of Aurora, don’t you see this is just old news brought up time and time, again, by Dave Perry in an attempt to enhance his far left wing thoughts. Then the far left commenters say the same things to help enhance their far left wing thoughts and to say what a smart man Dave is.

Isn’t the money getting tighter, Dave? Not for long, eh. Which employee is next to go?

By the way, thanks Danielle for all you do since helping to get our past worthless APD Chief fired. And that too is really old news.

Bret H Hamilton
Bret H Hamilton
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Apparently, you think no transparency for the city council and using our tax dollars to defend a councilwoman is okay. That must be the kind of thing the right wing likes. Duly noted.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Also, duly note this, Bret. I believe what Bob states below. Socialist Councilman Marcano wanted to institute a verbal fight with Danielle. He saw he couldn’t win and that the citizens would have to pay for his fight because they are both Councilmen. He then backed off. It’s still old news and you continue to be duly noted.

Bob
Bob
2 months ago

“Who considered it good government to award a fellow lawmaker $16,000?”
This is a incorrect assertion, and needs re-asked. Who should be responsible for $16k legal fees for David Lanes firm? CM Marcano, has been begging for a fight with CM Jurinskey. The opportunity for CM Marcano to act and pounce using a lightweight political censure was there, he took a jab he thought would knock her down. She came back, with a pronounced legal heavyweight, (Lane in her corner) counter-punch that did some damage. The city now can’t figure out what to do except the famous rope-a-dope strategy.

Sam
Sam
2 months ago

The Sentinel comments are as asinine as the paper is. You all throw so much partisan garbage around yet none of you provide any substance. It is all just an exercise in name calling. How about you all put as much effort into substance as you put in to partisan bickering?

Don
Don
2 months ago

How much money has this failing blog spent investigating a non-story like this? That is the real question.

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
1 month ago

Drop it. Please. A waste of tax dollars litigating this waste of time and wasting Sentinel space.

Bret H Hamilton
Bret H Hamilton
1 month ago

The councilwoman’s entitlement is showing. Jurinsky has behaved unprofessionally, and she should step down, not charge the city for her defense. The council has handled this badly.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

Dave Perry, aren’t you the lead journalist at the Sentinel and have the professional standard to work the angles of the story to get to the facts. You mention David Lane two times in your piece. Did you bother to call Dave Lane or his firm and ask him any details about this meeting? No, of coarse not, he might provide you information that is in conflict to what you think went on in the council meeting. Perhaps you tried to contact Juan Marcano, for his input. There may be little smoke after all to this story.