Woodland Park Council Sets New Civil Tone

WP Leaders Approve Permanent Attorney Contract; Blast Council Critic

Trevor Phipps

This is no April Fool’s Joke.  The Woodland Park City may have reached a peace truce regarding public civility, despite some concerns from vocal critics.

Surprisingly, the difference between the two Woodland Park City Council meetings that took place in August resembled night and day During an earlier meeting this month, sparks flew with heated speeches and staunch verbal punches, with the forum lasting more than three hours. But during last week’s gathering, some clarifications were made and the lack of passionate public comments shortened the meeting to just over an hour. That may have set a record for the last few years.

One resident spoke during public comment, but instead of mentioning misconduct within the city, the usual topic for public speakers, she just asked that the council work harder on unity. The resident said that she has seen some divisiveness between members of the council and some community members, and asked that it stop.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Hilary LaBarre presented the approval of their contract with their city attorney firm, Williams and Wilson. The topic was put on the agenda during the last meeting, but the council voted 4-2 to wait until November to make the final decision to designate the firm as the permanent city attorney.

During a recent meeting, resident and former DDA member Tanner Coy  questioned some of the advice the law firm had given. Coy said that he thought going into an executive session was not legal, and that some other advice involving the appointments of DDA members and Councilwoman Catherine Nakai was questionable.

The council then decided  before approving the attorneys for a permanent position. They also wanted further clarification from the lawyers, based on Coy’s claims.

But at last week’s meeting,  the mayor stated that  Coy’s allegations were false and that she thought that council didn’t need to wait until November to approve the contract. LaBarre took some time to explain for the record how council was allowed to move into an executive session before the DDA appointments were made.

“I would like the record to accurately reflect the correct law because it was posted also in the newspapers and it was inaccurate,” the mayor pro tem said. “Normally when it is a person’s opinion or interpretation, I don’t think it needs to be corrected. But since it was presented as the truth as if it was accurate, I think it does need to be fixed.”

Moreover,  she said that Coy’s claim that the executive session was not legal was false because the session fell into a different part of the state law surrounding open meetings than what Coy read into the record at a previous meeting.

She said that the executive session on July 1,was legal under a clause that allows the council to go into an executive session for legal advice. And, she noted the council sought legal advice that day on a conflict of interest matter regarding one of the DDA appointees.

The mayor pro tem continued to explain that the legal advice given was correct, and that the council voted with a two- thirds majority to go into the private session. “I don’t think that four or more months are needed to see that our lawyers who have doctorates in law and years of experience in this topic are less competent than an untrained, unexperienced critic,” LaBarre explained.

Councilman Rusty Neal, who initially opposed this attorney approval action, said that he was ready to change his vote to okay the contract with the Williams and Wilson group. Councilman Robert Zuluaga said that he was concerned about how council had been conducting matters, and that he had been listening to the public’s comments surrounding transparency.

The motion to approve the contract was then approved by a 4-1 vote with Zuluaga casting the dissenting tally. Councilwoman Stephanie Alfieri, who usually sides with Zuluaga on most issues, was not present at the meeting.