Hickenlooper signs bill for Sunshine law

By Jeffrey A. Roberts

COLORADO FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COALITION

A little more than two months after a Jefferson County judge dismissed a citizen’s lawsuit against Arvada for using secret ballots to replace a city council member, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation Friday to ensure that anyone can legally challenge violations of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

HB 14-1390 was introduced late in the 2014 legislative session in response to a Mar. 30 ruling from District Judge Margie Enquist that Arvada resident Russell Weisfield did not have legal standing to sue the city.

Weisfeld’s suit alleged that Arvada violated a two-year-old provision of the Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Law, that generally prohibits the state or any local public body from voting in secret to adopt “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation” or to take “formal action.”

The  judge said council members “may have violated the secret ballot provision” when they marked unsigned sheets of paper four times Jan. 10 to eliminate candidates for a vacant council seat. But she ruled against Weisfield because he couldn’t prove he had been personally harmed by the hidden votes.

Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the ruling threatened to make “a dead letter” of the Sunshine Law. But the bill, which explicitly grants legal standing to anyone, passed the General Assembly with no opposition. One of it its sponsors was Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat whose appointment to the legislature last fall created the Arvada council vacancy.

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