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Woodland Park councilman alleges open meeting laws were violated, Mayor Pro-tem disputes

Woodland Park, Colo. (KRDO) — A Woodland Park City Councilman alleges the city council violated open meeting laws during its appointment of a new council member less than two weeks ago. 

Robert Zuluaga tells 13 Investigates appointing Catherine Nakai to Woodland Park’s city council, in an attempt to avoid a special election, was never discussed with him or in a public meeting before it came up for a vote.

However, Woodland Park Mayor Pro-tem Hilary Labarre tells 13 Investigates she spoke with all council members individually after a council meeting weeks before. 

The issues began on July 1, when Councilwoman Stephanie Alfieri, submitted her resignation. When Alfieri learned her resignation would force the city to conduct a special election costing at least $20,000 she rescinded her resignation. 

The council decided to move forward with appointing a member on July 15 to add a member in case Alfieri or another person resigned from the council in the future. 

"Council has the right to appoint a member at any time. Depending on situations, even just off the street. So we are following the law, we are following the rules,” Mayor Pro-Tem LaBarre said during the meeting.

LaBarre mentioned during the meeting that the council "discussed" and "decided" to appoint Nakai.

Typically, Woodland Park City Council takes applications when appointing a council member, but opted to appoint Catherine Nakai, who was runner up in the most recent council election.

"It is a historic procedure that we have it is not a legal procedure, so we don't have to take applications. We are allowed to just appoint someone should we desire to do that,” Labarre said in an open meeting.

Before the city council voted 3-2 to appoint Nakai, Councilman Zuluagraised concerns about the process saying it was the first time he heard about the council’s plan to appoint Nakai.

Zuluaga tells 13 Investigates he believe the council violated open meeting laws by not discussing who it planned to appoint to council publicly before the vote.

“None of that was done in the public eye so I would suggest as a council we violated Sunshine laws to make that decision in advance without doing it in front of the public is a clear violation of the sunshine laws,” Zuluaga said.

Mayor Pro-Tem LaBarre said over the phone that she informed all council members before, but not in an open meeting. 

She tells 13 Investigates as Acting Mayor she doesn’t need council approval to put an item on a council agenda.

"Hilary is correct we have the right to appoint whomever we wish as a council. However, this discussion was not held in the public eye. The pros and cons of who that would be were not discussed openly so I am troubled that the public was not included in understanding how we came to a decision. As a council member, I was not given this consideration and I contend the manner in which this process was conducted lacked transparency," Zuluaga said.

LaBarre maintains that no open meeting laws were violated and that the process regarding the appointment of Nakai was legal and in line with Woodland Park’s city charter.

If you have a tip or lead you want our team to investigate, email us at 13Investigates@krdo.com.

Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is an investigative reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.

Comments

4 Comments

    1. Problem is most voters don’t understand why this is important, like this reason right here. It’s simple, the government has to be transparent to the populace. They cannot have private meetings discussing topics behind closed doors, then come out and advise the populace this is what they are doing. That closed door meeting is supposed to occur in the open, public meeting so “we the people” are aware of both sides of the argument, or even that there is 2 sides.

  1. The majority vote of WP City Council appointed Councilman Catherine Nakai in a legitimate procedure. Contrary to Councilman Zuluaga’s statements, the Voters of Woodland Park had a strong voice in this appointment whereas
    Nakai was elected runner-up to Alfierie’s marginal win for this seat at the most recent general election. WP Citizens do not want another Special Election–we all have ‘election fatigue’ which has been openly discussed at several meetings with Council. Councilmen Zuluaga and Alfieri were the only ‘no’ votes, yet neither provided explanation for why they were against her appointment. Perhaps Councilman Zuluaga not have approached ‘KRDO Investigates’ if his preferred candidate had been appointed instead of Nakai? Perhaps Councilman Zuluaga’s allegations against his fellow Councilmen were fueled by Council’s recent action to replace Councilman Zuluaga as the Council Liason to the DDA Board? As a voting taxpayer in Woodland Park, I applaud Council’s decision to let the voter’s voices be heard by appointing Candidate Nakai–she’s well-qualified and well-informed to fill this Council seat.

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