Court says student's open-meetings suit can move forward

COLORADO — A former student editor’s lawsuit alleging violations of state open-meetings law by her college’s board of trustees will go to trial, a state court ruled in July. 

Megan Fromm, former editor of the Criterion, a student newspaper at Mesa State College, believes the board illegally entered into executive session to discuss the procedure for finding a new president for the public college in Grand Junction. 

She filed a lawsuit against the board in early March after it denied her open-records request for the audio tapes of the closed meeting.

“The court agrees with the plaintiff that the legislature intended that one specific type of employment matter, that of establishing procedures for hiring a college president, may not be decided in executive session by a search committee,” stated Mesa County District Judge Amanda Bailey in a July 2 ruling.

Fromm is asking the court to privately inspect the tapes of the executive session to see if matters that should have been discussed in public were included in the closed meeting. 

In denying the board’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the court agreed with Fromm’s assertion that the board’s public adoption of a presidential search committee was a “rubber stamping” of a decision the board made behind closed doors.

“Colorado law prohibits this type of evasion of public debate and scrutiny, where all meaningful discussion and decision occur behind closed doors,” the ruling stated.

Fromm said she was happy with this first step in the case, but said “the real nuts and bolts still need to be worked out.”

She said she is not challenging the board’s decision to hire Tim Foster as college president, just the legality of the executive sessions that led to his hiring.

“I really hope that there is a consensus we can come to of how a board is expected to operate,” she said. 

“The best thing that can come out of this is for the board to say, ‘Yeah, we recognize the best thing for us to do is to work publicly as much as possible.’”

The judge ordered Fromm and the board to try to reach an out-of-court resolution in the dispute before the matter goes to trial.

CASE: Fromm v. Mesa State College Bd. Of Trustees, Case No. 04 CV 159 (Colo. Dist. Ct. Mesa County July 2, 2004