A Colorado reporter was kicked out of a supposedly public meeting between local officials, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell not once but twice on Wednesday, raising questions as to whether the officials violated Colorado’s open meetings law.
Erin Fenner, a reporter for the Craig Daily Press, was invited by Moffat County Commissioners to attend a meeting where local, state and federal officials discussed sage grouse conservation, telling her the meeting was open to the press and the public.
But at the meeting, which took place after a tour of sage grouse habitat attended by the press, a man who Fenner believed represented Jewell turned her away. He told her press wasn’t welcome, according to an article about the incident in the Craig Daily Press.
She returned to the newspaper, but was later contacted by a county commissioner who told her to return and that the meeting was indeed open. But upon her return to the meeting location at a local American Legion hall, the same man again prevented her from attending.
Fenner told the unidentified man about Colorado’s Sunshine Law, which requires that a meeting be open to the public and the press any time it involves a quorum of three or more members of a public body at which public business is discussed. All three of the Moffat County commissioners were in attendance, as well as officials from other counties, in addition to Hickenlooper and Jewell.
“[H]e said that we weren’t going to argue about it any more and said I had to get out,” Fenner told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid told the Press he didn’t understand why Fenner was barred from the meeting.
“We weren’t talking about anything sensitive, it was just general give-and-take, comments and questions,” he said.
The paper also reported that Hickenlooper’s office said it was Jewell’s idea to close the meeting to the media “help foster an open and frank discussion.”
Daily Press Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley also tried to enter the meeting when she heard that Fenner was prevented from doing so, but it was over by the time she arrived.
She said she confronted Jewell about it in the parking lot, as Jewell was getting into a car to leave. Jewell told her the press wasn’t invited to the meeting.
“I said, ‘Do you realize more than a dozen elected officials were in it?’” Leavitt Riley told the Daily Sentinel. “She said the tour was open to the press but this was a closed meeting.”
Jewell then drove away.
The Craig Daily Press is discussing the incident with the Colorado Press Association.
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