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Vidal closes the door to the public on special budget meetings

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Denver city officials are engaging in some interesting wordplay in an effort to keep a special budgetary task force's meetings behind closed doors. The Structural Financial Task Force -- comprised of 21 community, business and civic leaders -- was recently convened by Mayor Bill Vidal to "address the structural deficit the City and County of Denver faces in future years." But according to the Denver Post, the city is barring the public as well asmembers of the media from attending the group's monthly meetings.

Such a ban would seem to be a clear violation of Colorado's sunshine law, which generally holds that any meeting convened to discuss public business must be open to the public. The Vidal administration, however, says that members of the task force must be free from public scrutiny if they are to come up with real -- and potentially politically explosive -- recommendations on how to solve Denver's deepest, longstanding budget troubles.

City Attorney David Fine has offered some curious legal justifications for why these obviously public meetings are not public meetings. Fine argues that this task force is somehow different from the multitude of other city boards and commissions because it has not been "formally constituted" to perform any particular power or duty. Even more interesting, he told the Post that the state's sunshine laws don't apply anyway, because Denver is a home-rule city and has open-meetings statutes of its own.

As an interim mayor who'll be out of office in July, Vidal knows he has only a few months to push through these important financial reforms. But keeping these meetings secret will set a disturbing precedent that could enable future city leaders to circumvent the public process in exchange for political expediency.

Let's save the wordplay for the 2012 budget presentation.

This isn't the only meeting on a pressing city issue that's banning the press. Westword editor Patricia Calhoun was disinvited from yesterday's meeting of mobile food-truck vendors; you can read the current draft of the city's Food Truck Guide here.

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