There’s a good long article in Westword this week about Canyon Courier reporter Heath Urie and his efforts to make officials in Jefferson County more accountable. If you’ve been following the rampant corruption among Republican elected officials in Jefferson County – from Commissioners Jim Congrove and Kevin McCasky to former Treasuer Mark Paschall – this is an interesting read:
Reporter Heath Urie has faced plenty of obstacles while covering Jefferson County for the Columbine Courier newspaper, and he’s convinced that many of them were placed before him improperly. “When it comes to open-records laws and open-meetings laws, they are clueless,” he says, “and it’s frustrating as hell.”
Rather than simply grousing about the situation, however, Urie, in concert with Landmark Community Newspapers of Colorado, the Courier’s owner, is trying to improve it. On July 23, the parties filed a complaint in Jefferson County District Court against Jeffco’s Board of Commissioners — Republicans Jim Congrove and Kevin McCasky, and Democrat Kathy Hartman — over a July 5 meeting that Urie and company believe was staged in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law…
…On one occasion, he remembers being given the boot because the commissioners were supposedly seeking legal advice, only to subsequently overhear them talking about how best to handle persistent critic Mike Zinna during public-comment segments. (One person suggested letting Zinna have his say only after the room had been cleared.) On another, Jeffco officials refused to provide documents about commissioners’ work schedules, ostensibly because doing so might help terrorists pinpoint their locations — a laughable assertion rendered even sillier by the fact that Jeffco gave the same material to the Courier two years earlier.
The story goes on to chronicle what appear to be conscious decisions to evade public meeting requirements, but at least Congrove and fellow Commissioner Kathy Hartman (the only Democrat on the board) had enough sense to realize the violation later. But McCasky, who once had a ‘mute’ button installed behind his desk to shut off public comments at meetings, remains absurdly defiant:
In contrast, McCasky, who spoke with Urie at meeting’s end, firmly believed the commissioners had done nothing wrong. “He took the attitude that we had no business covering a meeting talking about the budget with county employees,” Urie reports. “He said he’d seen Supreme Court decisions that gave him the right to meet with any of the commissioners at any time without public notice as long as they weren’t making a decision or they didn’t have the potential to make a decision,” much in the same way they could consult over the phone or via e-mail. To Urie, this philosophy “raised a lot of red flags. If that’s what he’s telling us, how many conversations are going on in the building that are leading to decisions or influencing decisions that we don’t know about?”
Along with the Westword story, The Denver Post weighed in on the matter over the weekend. The spotlight is finally shining on the Republican “Kings of Corruption” in Jefferson County.