Sunday’s state rep meeting now open
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Questions about whether interviewing House District 56 replacement candidates behind closed doors abided by Colorado Democratic Party guidelines caused Sunday’s House District 56 Vacancy Committee meeting to be made entirely open to the public.
The committee convenes at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Frisco Town Hall. Voting will take place after candidates make a presentation and committee members pose questions. It could take several rounds of voting to identify a candidate, said Lucinda Burns, vice chair of the House District 56 Vacancy Committee and meeting organizer.
Rep. Christine Scanlan, a Democrat from Summit County, won re-election to the House District 56 seat in November, but was tapped by Governor-elect John Hickenlooper to serve on his leadership team. She will vacate the seat to serve as Hickenlooper’s director of legislative affairs and strategic initiatives.
Eight potential candidates are in the running for the seat, and are to be considered on Sunday by the vacancy committee.
Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Pat Hammon, Brian Sipes and Liz Spetnagel will be the Eagle County candidates who will field questions Sunday from the House District 56 Vacancy Committee members. Other candidates include Summit County residents Millie Hamner, Emily Tracy and Denise Levy. Ken Olsen, a Lake County commissioner, rounds out the field.
The original plan for Sunday was for interviews to be private and voting to be public.
The Colorado Democratic Party Plan of Organization and Rules state that “all meetings at all levels of the party are open.”
Burns said previously that the committee follows the procedures of the state Democratic Party, and said holding interviews behind closed doors is a “best practice that has been implemented elsewhere.”
She said the interview session was a chance for candidates to meet with vacancy committee members and that no action was to be taken prior to the 11 a.m. open session.
Instead, there will be no individual interviews, Burns said. Committee members will make a decision based on candidate presentations and their applications as well as by posing questions in a forum style. The public can attend the meeting but will not be able to participate – the committee must be able to do its job, Burns said.
“We don’t want anyone concerned that anything secretive is going on,” Burns said. “We had a conversation and decided to end any public perception of secrecy.”
Working off what they said is an explicit statement in the guidelines, interested citizens contested the privacy of the interview session. They said they want to learn more about the person selected to fill Rep. Christine Scanlan’s shoes – and feel that, because election campaigns are held in the public sector, the replacement process should be as well.
“I want this meeting to be open to the public,” local Democratic activist Sandy Greenhut said, adding that the public has a right to know more about their replacement representative and reasons behind the committee’s decision to choose that person.
Colorado Democratic Party officials said about half a dozen vacancy meetings have taken place throughout Colorado in the past year and a half, with all proceedings public. Interested members of the constituency were able to hear the interviews from the sidelines without impeding the vacancy committee members’ voting process.
As the discussion unfolded on Thursday, Summit County candidate Emily Tracy said she e-mailed Burns and other officials, citing the open meeting provision in the party’s state guideline and asking that the interviews be open to the public.
“My opinion … is that it should be open to anyone who want to come,” and rules should be in place so the public’s presence doesn’t interfere with the vacancy committee’s work,” she said.
“This seat belongs to the people of the district,” Tracy added. “These people just went through an election and used their best judgment to … select a candidate.” She added that opening the meeting shouldn’t interfere with the vacancy committee’s decision-making, but should help ensure a good decision is made.
“I don’t see a down side at all to allowing the public see the democratic process,” said Frisco resident David Cunningham. He has served on the Summit County Democrat’s executive committee and has been a part of several vacancy committees in the past.
“Obviously, there’s a lot at stake,” he said. “When we do an appointment like this, it’s good for the party and its apparatus to be involved. Otherwise, it can appear cloaked in secrecy.”
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