At its Aug. 17 meeting, the county commissioners voted unanimously to approve High Speed Mining’s application to change the zoning for two large, wooded, residential properties from residential to mining. In doing so, the commissioners violated the state’s open meeting laws.
To say that High Speed’s application is controversial is an understatement.
Miners claim that they have been the targets of shootings. Nearby, live-in residents complain of continuous noise, dust, lighting and industrial traffic during all hours of the day and night.
Other residents express grave concern for the destructive ugliness pit mining is creating in South Park along our gateway entrances to the park.
High Speed’s interests and the community’s concerns were spelled out in earlier public meetings before the commissioners.
However, after the public input portion of the July 27 meeting concluded, the commissioners avoided any discussion or deliberation on the pros and cons of the application in the presence of the assembled public and continued the matter to its next meeting on Aug. 17.
Allow me to set the stage for the Aug. 17 meeting. First, the usual clutch of mining supporters was curiously absent. Opponents were present. In short order, the agenda turned to High Speed’s application.
The commissioners’ attorney speed-read a multi-page resolution that had been prepared before the meeting. The resolution granted the application with eleven attached conditions.
After the reading, someone called for a motion, a second and a vote. The commissioners did not discuss, deliberate, question or ponder the lengthy resolution or, in particularly the 11 conditions.
In my estimation, after the reading of the resolution, the formal approval took less than 10 seconds, and they were off to the next agenda item.
Also noteworthy is the fact that not one of the commissioners stated the reasons why they favored the zoning change or discounted the concerns of the residents.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners and their representative conceded that they had obtained the consent of the miners to many of the 11 conditions and formulated the resolution during an executive session sometime before Aug. 17.
To my knowledge, no notice of the secret executive session indicated that High Speed’s application would be considered behind closed doors.
Colorado law provides, “It is declared to be a state wide concern and the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret. C.R.S. 24-6-401.”
By formulating the resolution with its attached 11 negotiated conditions in secret, the commissioners violated state law.
Without knowing why the commissioners unanimously granted the zoning change, especially in the presence of so much public opposition, we are left to ponder what else was in this deal that the community does not know about.
And, should any commissioner or mining proponent now come forward and state that it was jobs and the fact High Speed agreed to the conditions, I ask why they could not make these points in an open meeting, before the concerned members of the community, as required by law?
Park County citizens are not well served when their elected representatives deliberate and formulate county policy – a change in zoning – behind closed doors, away from the public’s ear and in secret.
Volunteer members of the Park County Planning Board may be wondering, “Why bother to serve?” when their careful study and analysis is ignored without explanation.
Secret meetings lead to speculation and a loss of trust in the commissioners’ ability to properly serve their constituents.
(The opinions are of the author and not necessarily those of The Flume)