CompleteColorado.com has obtained sworn testimony in trial audio in which one Lakewood City Council member alleges that the city’s Mayor and councilors make decisions in private, and in advance of actual city council meetings. City Councilman David Wiechman (pronounced WICK-man) said in his testimony that the city council meetings would include “pre-meetings” at which “scripts” would be discussed so the script could be acted out the final public meeting.
According to Wiechman:
“The way it works is, uh, you know, there’s an agenda, which the following actions are supposed to happen. And, uh, in the public meeting, you know, we’re supposed to look like we’re discussing it and uh encompassing all the conclusions that we’ve reached. And, it’s kind of a, you know, PR (public relations) show, it’s like, uh, who’s gonna ask, you know, what questions, what will the answers be, and uh, you know, back and forth, and it’s (unintelligible) like a script for a show.” (Quote at 4:44 in audio clip.)
The so-called “PR show” is meant to allow citizens in attendance to arrive at the conclusion that the city council members and the mayor had given the issue diligent consideration, and were therefore justified in whatever conclusion they reached. Wiechman went on to say that the key decisions taken up by the council were usually decided upon well before the pre-meetings, although he could not say exactly how those decisions were reached.
In the same audio clip above at mark 7:37, Wiechman says, “All I know is when I finally get to the pre-meeting, um, you know, the decision is, is evident, as to what it is. Now, how they reach that conclusion, I don’t know, that’s, that’s somewhat beyond me. I’m not involved.”
The questions about the process of decision making came up in the recent trial over a hotly contested piece of property at 2090 Wright Street. CompleteColorado.com first reported on the story on October 15, and again on October 25.
Additionally, at 6:47 in the previous audio clip, Mr. Wiechman goes further in his description, saying he does not believe that decisions are made at the “pre-meeting,” but that they are made some time before that. If true, Mr. Wiechman’s allegations could mean various members of Lakewood City government, including the Mayor, may have been violating provisions of the Colorado open meetings law.
Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy, under examination by lawyers representing the city, denied all of Wiechman’s claims, especially about the “pre-meetings,” which typically happened at 4 o’clock. (For the record, all other members of the city council who testified denied, broadly speaking, the allegations made by Councilman Wiechman.)
Attorney: “When you go to these 4 PM meetings, uh, let me ask you, were any substantive decisions or discussions on matters pending before the city council ever discussed?”
Mayor Murphy: “Never.”
Attorney: “At these 4 PM meetings, um, aside from the procedural matters and protocol matters, has the substance or the merits of any resolution or ordinance ever been discussed?”
Mayor Murphy: “Never.”
Mayor Murphy’s audio can be heard at this link.
Wiechman’s answers during cross-examination, while not in direct rebuttal to the Mayor, give us some idea as to how he would respond to the denials by Mayor Murphy. (Wiechman was reached by phone for this article, but said he could not remember if he was under any kind of gag order regarding the case, and because of that, asked to comment after the pending ruling for 2090 Wright Street is complete.)
At 4:33 of this clip of cross-examination, the following exchange occurs:
Wiechman: Well, you’re getting into semantics of, you know, what is the definition of decision. You know, the way it works around there, is, uh, when the leadership, you know, wants to do something, they communicate it to the rest of us and, and we all have to go along. So in, in that sense, you can sit there and say a decision has been made. But in a formal sense, you know has a motion been made and voted on, and stuff like that, no, I mean, not formally.
Attorney: Mr. Wiechman, what is it that forces you to go along with what the Mayor, or some..or the City Manager wants to, or suggests?
Wiechman: Well, if you don’t go along, they’ll uh, they’ll try to get you out of office, next time. Uh, if you want to run for reelection, they’ll uh, they’ll run somebody against you and get you out of there if you don’t go along.
Mayor Murphy provided the following statement to CompleteColorado.com:
As mayor, I absolutely know that the 11 members of City Council make their decisions only during formal city council meetings. Article 8 of the Lakewood City Charter is clear on when and where decisions can be made, and this City Council takes its responsibilities under the City Charter very seriously.
Testimony given by several other City Council members in this case provides ample evidence showing that decisions are only made at formal city council meetings. The testimony also shows that the City Council officers – the mayor, the mayor pro tem and the council president — meet prior to the formal City Council meeting only to review the procedure and logistics specific to that night’s agenda to ensure that no required step is overlooked. This is done to ensure that the deliberative process with a full and free discussion occurs at the public meeting and that every point of view is heard. Ensuring that all the proper steps are taken when enacting laws and policy is critical because a forgotten or improper step can invalidate actions the City Council has taken. These meetings of the City Council officers are also open to the public, and members of the public have attended regularly.
The audio recording of the testimony of several other City Council members providing evidence showing that the City Council makes decisions at formal city council meetings when all members are present is available as well. I would expect that such testimony would be included in your upcoming opinion piece to meet the journalistic standard of being fair, balanced and accurate.
Jeff Roberts, Executive Director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition said Wiechman’s allegations are serious because they speak to the essence of Colorado’s open meetings law. “The councilman alleges that decisions have been made time and again in situations where he’s not even been invited to participate,” Roberts said. “And he’s saying that the public never witnesses, or rarely witnesses, the real decision-making process. If that’s true, it’s very disturbing. The council, when it meets in public, is not supposed to rubber stamp decisions already made in private.”
Should anyone like to listen to other elements of the court testimony, email us at CompleteColorado@gmail.com.
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