Thornton’s city council members can only attend virtual meetings four dates a calendar year, due to rule changes after an unanimous vote at an April 26 city council meeting.
The ordinance says council members may participate virtually if extenuating circumstances do not permit in-person attendance and must provide the city clerk 24-hours advance notice, according to Assistant City Manager Joyce Hunt.
At a planning session on April 19, City Councilor Kathy Henson voiced concerns that if a councilor misses a city council update meeting and a regular city council meeting — both on the same date — then that would be two. That prompted the “four meeting dates” language.
However, if electronic participation is required for reasons protected by State or Federal law, those accommodations will take precedence, she said. Colorado Open Meetings law allows for meetings to be conducted electronically.
As well, executive sessions must be attended in person to eliminate the potential of disclosing confidential information to other parties, and quasi-judicial hearings can be listened to virtually but council members cannot vote.
“We want a nice clean record that everybody heard the same evidence at the same testimony,” City Attorney Tami Yellico said.
At a planning session meeting on March 8, Hunt explained that council can compel a member to come to the meetings in person if they exceed their allotted four chances.
At that same meeting, Yellico said this new ordinance does not apply to public participation and City Manager Kevin Woods said there are 48 meetings per year for council. Four absences is about 8% of the total meetings.
The idea to alter rules came quickly after former Thornton City Councilor Jacque Phillips was booted off council on Feb. 8 due to allegations that her second home and job in Alamosa meant she could not represent Ward 1 adequately.
According to Reese Evenson, records program administrator for Thornton, the clerk’s office does not have records for virtual participation.
However, they do have attendance records. For regular council meetings, the only councilors who have been absent since Nov. 30 are City Councilor David Acunto, Karen Bigelow, Julia Marvin and Jessica Sandgren. Each has been absent once.