Mesa County commissioners disagree over how a $26,000 pay raise for a top county official got approved in a process that may have violated Colorado open meetings laws.

Department of Human Services Executive Director Tracey Garchar's raise was approved in January without public input. Commissioners John Justman and Scott McInnis said the decision — made while Chairwoman Rose Pugliese was out of town — was both legal and came on the advice of the county attorney.

But some media law experts say the commissioners acted illegally when they approved Garchar's $151,000 salary without a properly noticed public meeting and discussion.

McInnis and Justman violated the open meetings law when they secretly decided to give Garchar a raise, according to attorney Ashley Kissinger of the Ballard Spahr law firm, which represents the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

"The Board of County Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Law," she said. "While the board was authorized to discuss the possibility of giving such a raise in executive session, it violated the law twice — once when it failed to formally convene such an executive session, and again when it made the final decision to give the raise outside of a properly noticed public meeting."

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