Dems pepper Garfield County with 19 open records requests
October 3, 2016
With a series of 19 Colorado Open Records Act requests, submitted between June and September, the Garfield County Democrats and commissioner candidate John Acha say they've unearthed documentation of corruption in the county government.
More specifically they point the finger at 20-year Commissioner John Martin, who Acha is running to supplant.
But Acha and the Garfield County Democrats have so far been secretive about what they were looking for and what they've obtained with these CORA requests, for which the county Democrats and Acha campaign have already paid $2,400 and expect to pay several thousands more, according to a party official.
"To maximize the impact of the facts" they've developed through these requests, the requestors intend to release their findings piece by piece over the next couple of weeks, said Andrew Quiat, a vice-chair of the Garfield County Democrats. Emails between the parties show that Quiat was the primary negotiator through this CORA process.
Their first "release" came Monday afternoon in the form of a press release deriding commissioners, and Martin specifically, for not investing the county's $100 million-plus in reserves in more fruitful ways. No records accompanied this press release.
The target of these 19 CORA requests range from sweepingly broad to extremely specific, from requesting records on property acquisitions to mining for proof of possible misconduct.
Though the parties are waiting to release details of their findings, Quiat said many of their highly specific requests originated with tips from parties to contracts and county employees who are too afraid to come forward with damning information.
It's unclear how many records the requestors obtained. But the first CORA request alone produced more than 50,000 pages of records, said Quiat.
Since that first CORA request came in, a data team of 10 people has been poring over the materials, he said.
Their targets seem to cover the county end to end and focus on many levels of the county government.
Some requests sought records on various county property transactions, including the Worrell and Durrett Building, Petrie Building, the Chamber Building and the county's administrative annex.
Another request sought records, including make, model and VIN numbers, on county ATVs, UTVs and trailers.
The requestors asked for records surrounding county property acquisitions on Aug. 30, 2012, communications and documentation on land exchange deals with Valley View Hospital and property transactions on Howard Avenue.
The requestors are interested in property acquired by the county that used to be occupied by the Colorado Department of Transportation and property in the Alcott subdivision.
Another request asks broadly for "management letters from any cpa's or consultants" in the last six years.
More of their CORA requests asked for long range plans or strategic plans created in the last six years and an air quality study the Board of County Commissioners initially supported.
The requestors asked for meeting minutes, including all the minutes from the last year and specifically minutes recording changes to the county's land use code dealing with affordable housing and oil and gas setbacks.
Acha and the Garfield County Democrats requested a summary of county expenditures on the sage-grouse issue, then another on expenditures on legal and consulting fees on the sage-grouse issue.
They asked for county road and bridge expenditures on maintenance and capital improvements, any and all leases between the county and Valley View Hospital and resolutions dealing with the purchase of several properties in Rifle.
They requested records of court settlements paid out by the county.
They asked for records of work by a forensic accounting firm for any investigations into Commissioner Martin.
The requests are almost all confined to the last six years. Acha has said that during the last six years the Board of County Commissioners has gone in a self-serving direction of mismanagement and corruption — though details have been light.
"CORA doesn't require you to state why you want records or for what purpose, and I wouldn't want to change that," said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
"While I realize that some people overuse the public records laws, there are built-in safeguards designed to ease the burden on records custodians."
Colorado agencies can charge up to $30 per hour for search and retrieval work after the first hour, said Roberts.
"The requestor must be willing to put up a substantial amount of money for requests that legitimately take many hours to fill."
And custodians can extend their deadlines by seven working days in "extenuating circumstances," including for exceedingly broad requests, he said.
It's unclear for how many of these CORA requests they obtained documents. The county provided some of them without charge if the search and retrieval took less than one hour. But others came with significant price tags.
The Garfield County Democrats and Acha campaign have jointly paid the county $2,400, for 81 hours of staff time, which was the county's initial estimate for their first request, said Quiat. However, that estimate proved low, and approximately another $900 is pending from the requesting parties.
The request for "management letters from any cpa's or consultants" was another high-dollar item, running $1,350 for 38 hours of county staff time. The requestors have not paid this amount out.