Sometimes bad things happen to good people. For the members of the Student Fee Review Board last week, that bad thing was university legal counsel.
You may not have noticed, but something very important to students happened last Monday — and I’m not talking about the 4/20 “celebration” on the Oval.
While other CSU students were up in smoke, the members of the SFRB clambered into the Lory Student Center to hold their final meeting of the year, in which they voted to approve the more than $1 million in student fees under the discretion of the Associated Students of CSU.
This year, however, there was one conspicuous absence: The Collegian. And it wasn’t by choice.
On April 20, as part of the Collegian’s regular news coverage, a reporter was sent down to cover the meeting. She arrived about 10 minutes early and upon arrival, was informed by ASCSU Vice President Quinn Girrens that the meeting would be closed.
The reason Girrens gave the reporter was that the SFRB would be discussing their position on the budgeted student fee for Transfort, a private entity, before a representative of ASCSU was to meet with members of the transportation service for final negotiations. This, however, was only a part of a meeting agenda that included a final vote on the entire budget.
According to Girrens, the SFRB, not wanting to compromise their position before they met with Transfort, went to university legal counsel before they closed the meeting to ensure that it was all legit.
Sadly, the advice they received was seriously lacking.
According to lawyers contacted by the Collegian, by holding this entire meeting in private, the SFRB was in violation of the Colorado Sunshine Law.
For the uninitiated, the Colorado Sunshine Law’s major purpose is to ensure that meetings and business done in the public interest and by public entities are accessible to the public.
Under the law, so-called “state public entities,” are required to hold open meetings, subject to a few exceptions.
According to the law, entities included under this category include “any board, committee, commission, or other advisory, policy-making, rule-making, decision-making, or formally constituted body of any state agency, state authority, governing board of a state institution of higher education . a nonprofit corporation incorporated pursuant to section 23-5-121 (2), C.R.S., or the general assembly, and any public or private entity to which the state, or an official thereof, has delegated a governmental decision-making function but does not include persons on the administrative staff of the state public body.”
Amy Parsons, the university lawyer who advised the SFRB, approved the full closure of the meeting, and when asked for her rationale, informed the Collegian that, in the context of higher education, the SFRB does not qualify as a governing board and therefore does not fall under the restrictions of the Colorado Sunshine Law.
The lawyers the Collegian talked to, however, actually read the law and have a much broader, and, in my opinion, realistic interpretation.
They focused on the language that says an entity is considered a state body if it is “delegated a governmental decision-making function.”
Ms. Parsons’ counter to this argument, was that the SFRB does not technically make any direct decisions but merely provides recommendations that the CSU System Board of Governors can use or ignore at its leisure.
Well, there’s an answer to this, too.
According to Denver attorney Christopher Beall, it is also arguable that the Sunshine Law applies to the SFRB because it is an “advisory” body that has been “formally constituted” under the BOG.
No matter how you look at it, Parson’s legal advice was wrong and led an unwitting group of students to break the law.
Hopefully, in the future, she’ll keep her boneheaded legal advice to herself and actually think critically before she puts a group of students on the wrong side of the law.
Editorials Editor Sean Reed is a senior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.