Vail: Meeting wasn’t illegal
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” Vail officials denied allegations Wednesday that a meeting was held illegally to discuss pay raises for three town employees.
The Vail Town Council has met in closed-door executive sessions to discuss 2008 performance reviews and merit raises for the town’s three highest-paid employees, Town Manager Stan Zemler, Town Attorney Matt Mire and Municipal Court Judge Buck Allen.
Mayor Dick Cleveland said earlier this week that all three had favorable reviews, but would not comment on how much the raises were, citing them as “personnel matters.”
The three employees were eligible for raises of up to 5 percent of their base salaries, as budgeted in 2008.
An article that ran in the Vail Mountaineer on Wednesday alleged that Vail officials violated state laws regarding open meetings by discussing the reviews and raises behind closed doors without proper public notice.
Tuesday’s executive session was to “receive legal advice on specific legal questions; and to determine positions, develop a strategy and instruct negotiators,” according to the council agenda.
The Mountaineer article stated that the topic of the discussion was incorrectly stated, possibly making the meeting illegal. State law says that officials must announce sufficiently specific topics that will be discussed in closed-door meetings.
However, Cleveland said the claims were untrue ” the performance reviews and raises were not discussed in Tuesday’s meeting, he said.
“It’s completely false,” he said of the allegations. “I can tell you categorically: There was no discussion of the evaluation of (the performance reviews) on Tuesday.”
In fact, the raise and performance discussions happened at the council’s Jan. 20 and Feb. 3 meetings, and those closed meetings were correctly announced in the town council agenda, said Mire.
The performance reviews will be signed and finalized in the next few days, then the town council will publicly direct human resources to make pay changes, he said.
Vail Mountaineer Editor John LaConte said the misunderstanding happened when the Mountaineer reporter asked Cleveland if raises had been determined in that day’s meeting.
Cleveland replied that he would not discuss a personnel matter, but didn’t specify that the raise decisions had already been made in previous weeks.
“Had the mayor not been so evasive about the whole thing, and said that the decisions had been made in January, that would have been great,” LaConte said. “He was evasive and vague, and that’s how these misunderstandings happen.”
Colorado Open Meetings laws state that salary information and the performance of employees are public record, said Colorado Press Association attorney Steve Zansberg.
While the extent that employee information is public can be debated, previous court cases have ruled in favor of releasing not only the ratings received by public employees, but the details and comments from the performance reviews, he said.
“Those records are public records. If they withhold those, they’d be mistaken,” Zansberg said. “(The law ) makes clear that salary information and the entirety of employment agreements must be disclosed.”
As for closed-door meetings, the employees being discussed must be notified of the meeting, and if they choose, can demand that the discussion happen in a public meeting.
Performance reviews can be done in private meetings, but the final review and any decisions made from the meeting must be publicly announced, Zansberg said.
The council does plan to publicly announce the salary decisions in a public meeting after the reviews are finalized, Mire said.
Mire added that he could not comment on what was discussed at last Tuesday’s closed-door meeting.
“Giving more information would jeopardize the negotiations,” he said. “We’re well within the law.”
Zansberg confirmed that it is legal for formal action or directions to be given to staff behind closed doors if it involves real estate transfer, acquisitions or business negotiations that could be compromised if discussed publicly.
“Then they’re supposed to come out in open session and adopt any policy position or take formal action in an open meeting,” he said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.