OPINION: Secrecy in county government

Americans have a love-hate relationship with secrecy. They (secretly) love it when they’re on the inside and hate it when they’re not.

When it comes to secrecy in county government, I hate it most of the time.

At Monday’s county commissioner meeting, county attorney Jin Ho Pack asked commissioners to go into executive session, as she often does, to discuss:

a. Raymond/Hostetler trial outcome and what it means for the County
b. Right to Farm
c. Personnel: County Attorney’s Office

She cited C.R.S. 24-6-402 (b) Advice from Counsel.

In a nutshell, this is the Colorado Revised Statute that governs proper procedure and execution of executive session. Pack further details a subsection of the statute, (b), that covers conferences between herself as county attorney and the county commissioners for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions.

This is where things get murky for me. Under this statute and subsection, the statement “for the purposes of receiving specific legal advice on specific legal questions” seems very broad. (Moreover, these “attorney-client” executive sessions are not required to be recorded and transcribed!)

In truth, the statute is pretty clear about what should fall under attorney-client privilege where executive sessions are concerned. The key word is “specific.” The statute mandates the identification of the particular matter to be discussed “in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.”

At Monday’s meeting, Pack left out vital details that would indicate how the discussion would provide specific legal advice and/or answer a specific legal question.

I’m not saying that the county attorney’s call for executive session wasn’t warranted but without the proper citing and details, the public has no way of really knowing if the closed session was legally and ethically justified.

After all, what stops someone from abusing this statute in order to keep secret whatever he or she wishes?

Well, there is legal recourse, but, for now, I leave the issue with the court of public opinion.

JoAnn Kalenak
Hotchkiss, CO