Eagle officials’ Florida trip inquiry reveals Sunshine Law violations
An examination of documentation provided in response to questions regarding the propriety of a trip to Florida taken by Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick and Eagle Town Board member Doug Seabury uncovered violations of the Colorado Open Meetings once the pair returned.
Copies of email communications regarding the trip, provided in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request, detailed plans for private meetings including Kostick and Seabury and other board members. On Nov. 2 Kostick contacted town board member Andy Jessen requesting a meeting. The email stipulated that the meeting would include Kostick, Jessen and Doug Seabury and its purpose is to “fill you in on some economic development news.”
Additionally on Nov. 3 a similar email from Kostick requested a meeting between himself, Seabury and and town board member Kevin Brubeck stating “We have an economic development update and also want to chat quickly about the budget.”
Those meetings happened and they violated Colorado’s Sunshine Law, which states “All meetings of a quorum or three or more members of a body, which ever is fewer, at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken must be open to the public unless an exception applies. § 24-6-402(2)(b).”
When contacted regarding the issue, Kostick said he thought the Sunshine Law allowed three people to meet outside of regularly noticed public hearings.
“I recognize this is a problem and I want to right the ship,” said Kostick. “I am in a leadership position and I want to make things right.”
Kostick said he and Seabury reached out to other board members after they returned from an Oct. 29 through Nov. 1 trip to meet with Haymeadow owner Alan Cohen of Abrika Development. The Haymeadow is a 837-unit residential development proposed at the 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink property. The development application was approved by the town board earlier this year.
The pair did not inform other town board members or town staff that they were headed to Florida to meet with Cohen prior to the trip. In addition to Kostick and Seabury, Scott Schlosser, a business associate of Seabury’s, participated in the trip. Scholsser is the newly designated local contact for the Haymeadow project.
“There were concerns about the budget in 2015 and where the project was going,” said Kostick. He said the reason for the trip was to discuss the Haymeadow approval conditions with Cohen and to get an update regarding the Abrika’s plan for the Eagle property.
“I think it is in Eagle’s best interest to understand the realities of the project,” said Kostick. After returning from their discussions with Cohen, Seabry and Kostick decided to meet individually with other board members to share what they had learned.
When contacted about these individual meetings, three of the five other board members noted they did not participate in the discussions.
Brubeck said he was not aware of the Sunshine Law provision prohibiting meetings of three or more board members to meet individually to discuss town business. He said his conversation with Kostick and Seabury was short – around 15 minutes or so – and dealt exclusively with what they had learned in Florida. Brubeck noted no specific town business or ordinances were discussed.
Jessen said he joined Kostick and Seabury for lunch on Nov. 3. After a general discussion of other topics, Jessen said Seabury and Kostick showed him a letter from Abrika.
“The letter explained that Ric Newman was no longer involved as a representative of Abrika/Haymeadow, which was a big surprise to me. I learned of the trip to visit Alan Cohen with the gist being that Alan felt disconnected from the project because of some sort of series of miscommunications between him and Ric,” said Jessen. “He (Cohen) felt, apparently due to these miscommunications, that Eagle didn’t want to see the project move forward. Yuri and Doug said that after the face-to-face meeting, Alan felt reassured, and they said that the project was still alive and well, but as a practical matter was unlikely to move significantly forward in 2015, which of course had budget implications,” said Jessen.
“They also said Alan was a big believer in Eagle and that he remained interested in further investment into the community beyond Haymeadow,” said Jessen. “Yuri said that he was letting each board member know about Ric’s departure individually. I expressed concern that the public might think the project was in jeopardy if the local representative was just all of a sudden out of the picture, and that every effort should be made to reassure the citizenry that this would not become another in limbo project.”
Board members who did not participate in the face-to-face meetings reported that they spoke with either Seabury or Kostick on the phone and that they were also informed about the Florida trip, Newman’s departure and Cohen’s letter.
“I have not had any discussions about the Haymeadow trip or the town budget that could be considered a violation of Colorado’s Sunshine law,” said town board member Anne McKibbin. “I fully understand that more than two trustees can’t engage in discussion about town business outside a noticed public meeting or executive session.”
“Yuri also called me on Nov. 4 (I think) asking if there was a good time for he and Doug to call,” said town board member Sarah Baker. “I was on my way to Chicago for a conference, so that never happened. I connected with Yuri by phone later that week. I also got a request for a ‘meeting’ of 3, but it did not occur.”
“Doug Seabury reached out to me upon their return from Florida and the trip was discussed in a phone call between Doug Seabury and myself a few days after they returned,” said town board member Luis Benitez. “The call only entailed information about the Florida trip (Haymeadow). There were no other board members present on the call.”
An examination of the documentation provided in the CORA request shows that town staff members were not informed about the trip until a meeting with town engineer Tom Gosiorowski and town planner Tom Boni on Nov. 5.
After news of the trip became public knowledge, the Eagle Town Board released a written statement on Nov. 17 addressing the issue, particularly because the $2,380 airfare cost represents a violation of Amendment 41. Amendment 41 which prohits town officials or staff from accepting gifts, including travel costs, in excess of $50.
“Total expenses for the trip were approximately $2,380, which will be approved for payment in December in connection with the November bill pay schedule,” the Nov. 17 statement said. Payment amount reflects air fare for the two and the records provided show that while in Florida, Kostick, Seabury and Schlosser stayed at a guest house on Cohen’s property. While the town can reimburse the costs for the flights, the airline tickets were initially paid for by another entity.
“The town board is pleased to have established an open and more direct relationship with Haymeadow’s principals and is confident that the expense of the trip will enable it to budget for 2015 expenses more effectively and ultimately, to help ensure the success of the project,” noted the board’s Nov. 17 statement.
The statement also said that Eagle has several infrastructure projects that are dependent upon Haymeadow timing.
“At its budget work session on Oct. 28, 2014, the board discussed its desire for more information on the projected development schedule of Haymeadow so that the town appropriately budgets for capital expenditures in the 2015 budget. Following that work session Mayor Kostick and Trustee Seabury met with representatives of Abrika in Florida on Oct. 29 through Nov. 1”
Although they left town the day after that referenced work session, Kostick and Seabury did not tell town board members or staff about the planned trip until they returned.
“Hindsight is 20/20 on that. Now that we are back, it would have been better to talk with the board before we went,” said Kostick. “The most important thing, though, is we came back with good news.”
The complete package of 75 pages of information provided by the town concerning the Florida trip is available on line at http://www.vaildaily.com. Choose the Eagle Valley News tap and search under the headline “Eagle officials’ Florida trip inquiry reveals Sunshine Law violations”
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