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EPRD not walking the straight and narrow?

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By Greg Romberg

The Evergreen Parks and Recreation District board violated the spirit and likely the letter of the open meetings law in hiring its executive director.

Colorado law requires finalists for chief executive positions of public bodies, such as EPRD, be made public. When a public body hires a chief executive, the law (24-6-402 (3.5), Colorado Revised Statutes) says the “public body shall make public the list of all finalists under consideration for the position of chief executive officer no later than 14 days prior to appointing or employing one of the finalists to fill the position.” The law doesn’t state a specific number of candidates that constitute the final group, but does (in 24-72-204 (3)(a)(XI), Colorado Revised Statutes) say that “if only three or fewer applicants or candidates for the chief executive officer position possess the minimum qualifications for the position, said applicants or candidates shall be considered finalists.”

There are times, such as when the University of Colorado regents selected Hank Brown, it would make sense to name one finalist, because that candidate is especially qualified and an obvious selection without utilizing all conventional hiring steps. This process clearly doesn’t fit that criteria. EPRD president Jeff Knetsch is quoted in last week’s Courier as saying, “We looked at over 80 applications, conducted 20 phone interviews and six in-depth personal interviews. There were a lot of strong contenders, and there were four or five that would have been excellent choices.”

While some public bodies have misread the law to conclude finalists are established once there are three or fewer remaining candidates, the law’s plain meaning suggests the six people who received “in-depth personal interviews” were the finalists. At that point, their names should have been made public. EPRD’s Sept. 14, 2007, minutes reflect a conscious effort to hide public information by stating, “The board agreed that due to the sensitive nature of a candidate’s employer finding out the candidate was seeking other employment it was agreed they would refer to each candidate in the order seen i.e., #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6,” (punctuation per minutes).

Other public bodies address the issue by specifically mentioning in job announcements that finalists will become public. Applicants should have understood that Colorado law demands public notice and not applied without a willingness for EPRD to follow the letter and spirit of the law.

A prior EPRD board violated the open meetings act in 2005 when it filled a board vacancy. It is disappointing that controversy didn’t make the board more sensitive to its responsibility to make these finalists public. Perhaps one of the first things the new executive director should do is learn Colorado open meetings and records laws and help the board walk the straight and narrow in the future.

On a more positive note, EPRD has opened Stagecoach Park, and it is beautiful. The fields, which are under restricted use to let the grass get established, look great, and the playground is already a local favorite. Thanks to EPRD for getting the park into public use so quickly.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.