Jun 18, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterExperts in Wyoming's open meetings law questioned the legality of the session.
A closed-door meeting between the Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District board and Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal representatives resulted in a unanimous vote to continue a "bridge" contract on management of the four trash transfer stations on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The solid waste board refused to open that portion of the meeting to the public or the news media. Experts in Wyoming's open meetings law questioned the legality of the session.
The bridge agreement was extend until July 1. The board authorized its
negotiating team to work out details of a long-term solution in which the tribes would take over full operation of the four transfer stations.
A 1996 contract with the tribes concerning the district's management of the transfer station sites on the reservation expired in December. Before it did, the board and tribes approved a bridge contract to last six months, which was set to run out in June.
An agenda published before the meeting included two items of business: an executive session for potential litigation and Wind River Indian Reservation transfer station operations and agreement.
The board promptly addressed the first piece of business.
After preliminary items, the board moved to enter executive session at about 6:20 p.m., and members of the public and media stepped outside.
After roughly an hour, board attorney Rick Sollars asked Ryan Ortiz, solid waste coordinator for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission, and Bob Hitchcock, a lawyer for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, who were standing outside, to join them.
Sollars did not immediately explain why he asked the two men to join the board.
Upon questioning, he said, "It's still under potential litigation with the tribes. ... The tribes are involved."
Sollars said the public and media could not be present.
End of discussion
When the executive session ended after roughly 30 minutes, Ortiz and Hitchcock left immediately, declined to comment, and directed questions to the board.
Back in regular session, the board took up the second item of business.
Board member Mike Morgan immediately moved to continue the bridge contract until July 1. The board voted unanimously and without discussion to approve the motion.
Morgan then made the motion regarding the board's negotiating team, a move that also met unanimous approval without discussion.
The board adjourned directly after the second vote. The total time spent on the second agenda item was less than five minutes.
After the meeting, board chairman Mike Adams said both the board and tribal representatives made "quite a few" proposals at the meeting regarding the contract, but there was a "difference of opinion."
Adams did not explain what that difference was and said the issue enjoyed protection under the potential litigation clause of state open meetings law.
He said the board hopes to turn over operation of the four reservation transfer stations to the tribes.
"There's potential litigation with that contract," Adams said. "In our situation, we want to have both parties come together in mutual agreement ... it's a public contract once it's done."
Bruce Moats, an attorney for the Wyoming Press Association, said litigation actually must be proposed or pending to warrant an executive session.
A closed-door meeting allows a group to address legal strategy and discuss potential legal pitfalls, but policy discussion must be public, Moats said.
The executive session allows a governmental body to avoid putting themselves at a disadvantage by revealing its litigation strategy to the other side of a legal issue, Moats said.
That purpose is void if the opposing party is in the executive session as well.
"It doesn't put them at a disadvantage by revealing their litigation strategy to the other side," he said explaining how an executive session protects an organization. "You can't do that when you have (the other side) in there."
The Solid Waste Board was scheduled to address the reservation transfer station issue at its next meeting.
On the agenda published before the June 17 meeting and adopted at its outset was an item for public session regarding the operations of the Wind River Indian Reservation transfer stations and an agreement surrounding them. An executive session was scheduled for later to address "potential litigation and land acquisition," according to the agenda.
Once the meeting arrived at the reservation transfer station discussion, chairman Mike Adams said, "I'll move Wind River Indian Reservation (item) into executive session."
There was no discussion of the change.
In an interview, Adams said there was nothing to discuss under that agenda item. He said discussion in the executive session would fill in board members who did not attend a June 13 board meeting of developments regarding potential litigation.
Later, when the board was moving into executive session, Adams said it was for "threatened and potential litigation."
At the June 13 meeting, the solid waste board also went into executive session. At the time, attorney for the board Rick Sollars said it was for potential litigation involving the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes.
At the June 17 meeting, a discussion was scheduled with Ortiz of the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission, but Ortiz did not show up.
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