Governments Taking Action Virtually

Written by Leah Thompson on March 22, 2016

Thumbnail for the Colorado Government Accountability Issue Bucket

On Monday March 14th, HB 16-1259 was passed 11-0 by Colorado House Education Committee. The bill expands the membership of board of trustees for a local district college and details how a local district college can take action without holding regular or special meetings. This second part is what most interests us at Colorado Common Cause.

With the new additions to law the bill proposes, in the case of taking action without holding in-person meetings, the secretary notifies the members of the proposed action in writing. The board must provide full and timely notice of the proposed action to the public, also requiring every member to vote in favor of the electronic action (not an in-person meeting) before any action is taken. All of the communication through electronically transmitted facsimile, electronic mail or other forms of electronic communication are subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).  

Matt Gianneschi from Colorado Mountain College and Greg Romberg from the Colorado Press Association provided testimony on the bill. Gianneschi voiced his desire for the bill, noting that traveling to attend meetings is difficult, especially those who live far away. Having virtual meetings would make it easier and safer to communicate.

Romberg expressed concerns about virtual meetings, stating that the public would miss the opportunity to see the process of the government that takes place at virtual meetings. He suggested two changes to the language in order to improve the bill. First, the bill should specify how to post a meeting so there is no confusion about how to communicate. Next, a second email notification should be sent to those who sign up for the notification as an extra reminder. Included in this specific email is a notification that allows them to ask for an in-person meeting to take place.

Colorado Common Cause also submitted testimony to the committee. We understand that large geographic districts, as well as the presence of inclement weather and unsafe road conditions, make holding in-person meetings difficult. We support several safeguards included in the bill, such as requiring a unanimous affirmative vote if an action is taken, unless any board member or the public objects. We also support the full and timely notice to board members and the public, and that the communication in virtual meetings is subject to CORA.

To create an atmosphere of transparency, one additional safeguard should be added. The option of taking action without holding meetings, should be chosen rarely and only be reserved for emergencies. Board members should not only rely on virtual meetings as a means to make meetings easier for themselves, but use virtual meetings only when it is called for so that the public still has opportunities to attend. As much as possible, meetings should be open to the public to allow for transparency.

We are neutral on the bill.

Office: Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Government Accountability

Tags: Sunshine

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