The Durango City Council will hold its regular online meeting this evening, and may end up spending some of that meeting in executive session – ostensibly for the purpose of discussing the potential purchase of the FIS Worldpay building on the south side of town.
Under Colorado’s Open Meetings Act, a two-thirds vote is required for a public body to legally go into executive session. An executive session appeared on the City Council’s agenda, indicating that at least a vote on the matter will occur, and council might opt to use the closed-door option.
Executive session is a necessity of governmental bodies. At times, legal and financial issues that must be discussed cannot be discussed publicly – for example, whether to hire or fire personnel or whether to make an offer to lease or purchase land or buildings.
It’s that latter reasoning that City Manager José Madrigal was relying on when he advised councilors to use executive session to discuss the city’s potential purchase of the FIS Worldpay building.
The trouble is that the building isn’t yet on the market and thus has no price tag. For that reason alone, a substantive discussion about making an offer on the building cannot occur. Furthermore, the council has not yet discussed why the city might need such a building and what it would do with it – much less whether it fits the city budget, now and in the future.
Aside from those very practical concerns, there’s a bigger issue at hand: the public trust.
We – the taxpayers who pay for all of the city’s real estate and its maintenance – have through our votes entrusted a handful of our neighbors with acting on our behalf in managing our municipality, including its real estate. Shouldn’t we be privy to the initial discussion among councilors about any such momentous decision as buying a building?
Madrigal said he didn’t want the council to “tip its hand” by signaling interest in the FIS Worldpay building, but anyone who reads the Herald’s opinion or news pages already knows that at least one councilor – Kim Baxter – is keen on investigating the idea.
We admit we don’t know whether the idea is a good one or not. We, like the council, don’t have enough facts to make such a judgment.
The public needs to hear our councilors’ thoughts about this issue, which is not just about a building, after all, but about the future facility needs of the city; its economic development; and our vision for developing that area of our town.
The facts: Durango Mall is only half-full; Worldpay will soon be empty if not already; and much other commercial space is available or will be by the time COVID-19 finishes taking its toll. Businesses are shuttered, or will be; jobs have been lost.
The face of Durango business, as elsewhere across the nation, is changing, and changing quickly.
These are the big issues we Durangoans deserve to hear discussed in open meetings.
Open meetings laws – part of a constellation called “sunshine laws” – help protect the public from corruption and elected officials from the appearance of malfeasance. Members of the public are right to question any justification for a closed-door meeting of a public body tasked with spending taxpayer money.
There is a saying in some quarters that “our secrets make us sick.” The same can be said of government. Secrecy in government is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. That’s not who we are or want to be.