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Colorado loosens email restrictions for governing bodies

Non-substantive communications no longer subject to Open Meetings Law
(Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango has been training City Council and other advisory board members about new state laws regarding the transfer of emails between elected officials after changes were made in April to Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

Changes to the law create an exception for non-substantive emails. Non-substantive emails may include scheduling and availability discussions between council and board members, forwarding information and responding to a constituent, and posing a question for future discussion.

“The Open Meetings Law previous to this would have barred communications between more than two members of a body, and this is really a nod to efficiency and the fact that you’re not really discussing the merits of a topic,” city attorney Dirk Nelson said

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board invited Nelson to its most recent meeting to ask for clarification about the changes.

In April, House Bill 21-1025 clarified the text of the Open Meetings Law about electronic mail to use the word “exchange” instead of “use.” So the law now reads: “If elected officials exchange electronic mail to discuss pending legislation or other public business among themselves, the electronic mail is subject to the requirements of this section.”

“This is something that the municipalities in the (Colorado) Municipal League have been after for a while, to clarify that we’re not inadvertently creating issues by having those non-substantive discussions in the Legislature,” Nelson said.

Ultimately, these changes create a convenience for council and board members.

“It’s a convenience that most private businesses take for granted, being able to send out and say, ‘Hey, is everybody available for a meeting this week,’ when that kind of thing would have been particularly problematic under the Open Meetings Law,” Nelson said.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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