The Longmont Housing Authority staff received a crash course Tuesday on the very rights they violated with warrantless searches of subsidized housing units, with an assist from Longmont Police.
During the monthly Longmont Housing Authority board meeting, all staff were given a brief legal and civics lesson from their attorney.
"Nobody here wants to act in a willful and wanton manner, and I don't believe anybody has," said attorney David Herrera. "Willful and wanton means a willful disregard, a reckless disregard for the rights of someone. Making a mistake is a mistake. That's negligence. You have immunity from negligence."
The meeting, which usually takes place at the Longmont Housing Authority office, was moved to the city's senior center about one mile away.
When Next went to the normal location, we found a locked door and a sign that said the office was closed until 10:30 a.m. due to a staff meeting.
About five minutes later, a board member showed up and found the same locked door. While walking back to his car, he told reporter Marshall Zelinger that the meeting was at the senior center.
The change of venue was not posted on the housing authority website or the outside door to the main office. It turns out it does not have to be either.
Briefly, Colorado's sunshine law requires 24-hour notice of a public meeting.
According to Longmont Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Reis, each year the board passes a resolution on what constitutes a notice for a public meeting.
The resolution for 2017 referenced the Longmont Housing Authority office and the Longmont Civic Center as places to post a notice for a meeting.
It turned out the staff meeting was part of the board meeting.
At the end of the meeting, Next had a chance to ask the board president and Reis if anyone had been held accountable for their actions that resulted in a $210,000 settlement between four tenants and the city of Longmont because of the Longmont Police involvement in the warrantless searches.
"I think you need to pose all the questions to David Herrera," said Reis, punting to the authority's attorney.
"We're not holding anybody accountable now," said board president Anne Kear.
In a follow up email to Reis, asking the same question, he wrote, "I will not be discussing personnel matters."
As part of the staff meeting, employees received a crash course on the Fourth Amendment -- search and seizure -- and the Fourteenth Amendment -- due process.
Herrera determined that the staff needed training on these topics after he concluded his internal investigation of the warrantless searches.
"To get an appreciation of the complexity of the organization and its different responsibilities. It's a different thing than almost any other creature that's out there because of its quasi-municipal character," said Herrera.
He asked the staff to raise their hands if they believed they worked for a private entity, and then asked for them to raise their hands if they believed they worked for the government. Only a handful raised their hand for both answers.
Herrera said that their responses did not mean they were not qualified to be working for a quasi-governmental agency.
After announcing the settlement with the city last week, the ACLU also revealed that it had served notice to the Longmont Housing Authority that it might sue on behalf of the same tenants who will split the $210,000 from the city.
"Does the Longmont Housing Authority have a budget to handle a potential six-figure claim?" asked Zelinger.
"No," said Herrera. "I know that there isn't a six-figure slush fund or a contingency fund or any other fund that you'd want to call it. There just isn't one."
The Longmont Housing Authority publicly posts its budget every year. Based on the December 31, 2016 financial statements, the housing authority had $2.1 million in cash.
When asked if he would point us to the true and accurate accounting of cash on hand from the end of 2016, Reis wrote in an email, "The LHA financial statement speaks for itself. I cannot assist you in reading or interpreting the financial statement."
In a second email asking again for help understanding the budget he controls, Reis responded, "My suggestion is to ask a third party to interpret the LHA Financials, but you already know that."