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Navajo Western Water District faces OML lawsuit

by Bill Knowles
NAVAJO- Because of a complaint filed in Huerfano County District Court on Aug. 3, the Navajo Western Water District (NWWD) is facing a lawsuit alleging the NWWD board violated the Colorado Open Meeting Law (COML) at least six times between December 2009 and July 2011, as well as the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
The complaint, filed by Carla Dolce, a resident in the Navajo Ranch Subdivision, alleges that the NWWD board held closed-door meetings on Dec. 14, 2009; Jan. 11, 2010; July 26, 2010; Dec. 13, 2010; June 13, 2011; and June 24, 2011. Each meeting repeats a pattern according to the complaint.
Allegations have also been made that the NWWD board made decisions and voted during the executive sessions. It is also alleged that no electronic recordings of the sessions were made.
The June 13, 2011 meeting shows a break in the pattern which the complaint notes is a closed-door meeting held an hour before the regular meeting. The board is alleged to have not posted the meeting in at least three locations or with the county clerk. The topic of discussion in the closed meeting was not noted in the minutes of the regular meeting of June 13.
When Dolce began requesting records of the regular meetings along with the alleged executive sessions, she encountered resistance from the NWWD board according to the complaint.
At first the NWWD board is alleged to have not responded to two requests for meeting minutes and other public records. The first request by Dolce was made on June 10, 2011. A second request was made on June 15, 2011 following the June 13, 2011 closed-door meeting. The request asked for an inspection of the minutes from the June 13, closed-door meeting which may have been improperly convened as an executive session.
Dolce went to the NWWD office on June 20, 2011 and verbally requested to inspect meeting minutes from September 2009 to the present. After hesitation and a phone call, the office manager handed Dolce a “stack of minutes to inspect,” according to the complaint. She was also told that if she needed any copies, the charge would be $1 a page. The Colorado Open Records Act specifies copies will be made for $.25 a page for regular size pages including standard legal size.
The complaint also alleges that on June 20, 2011, the NWWD had no written policy regarding inspection of public records and provided copies of records, particularly minutes, to the public at no charge.
According to the complaint, the NWWD board, during a June 24, 2011, special meeting, amended the district’s rules and regulations adding a fee of $1 per page to copy public records along with a $25 per hour fee for research by the district’s staff.
CORA provides for a fee of $.25 per page for copies. However courts have permitted research and retrieval fees of between $15 and $20 per hour. The law itself is tilted in favor of the public’s right to know just as the Open Meetings Law is in favor of the public’s right to witness the workings of its elected officials.