In a huge blow to government transparency, a city in a state that disregards federal immigration and drug statutes is keeping records secret by assertingthat the “material is so candid or personal that public disclosure is likely to stifle honest and frank discussion within the government.” It is a laughable excuse to withhold records in an apparent effort to coverup embarrassing and perhaps unprofessional behavior by public officials on taxpayer equipment and time.
Here’s some background; in September Judicial Watch uncovered a controversy involving the northern Colorado city of Ft. Collins’ search for a new police chief. A highly qualified and respected veteran law enforcement official with impressive credentials was precipitously eliminated as a finalist after Ft. Collins officials discovered he endorsed immigration enforcement. His name is Steve Henry, a former chief deputy for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) in central Arizona with 23 years of continuous and stellar law enforcement service. Henry spent nearly two decades at PCSO, an agency with a $39 million budget that patrols a county the size of Connecticut and he’s a U.S. Army veteran with degrees from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the Harvard JFK School of Government.
Henry was among 65 applicants for the Ft. Collins police chief job and was notified that he was one of six finalists. He was invited to travel to Ft. Collins to interview with city officials, specifically the city manager, who oversees the police chief. Henry’s offer was abruptly rescinded, a source closely involved with the selection process told Judicial Watch, because he publicly supported an Arizona law (SB1070) that makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. without proper documentation and bans “sanctuary city” policies.
The measure also allows local law enforcement officers throughout the state to inquire about suspects’ immigration status. “Three of the top six candidates were dumped for a public stance on one issue or another,” Judicial Watch’s source said. “Political correctness is destroying America when a city government does not want a chief who supports the rule of law.”
Before publishing the story, Judicial Watch reached out to Ft. Collins City Manager Darin Atteberry for comment but an assistant named Rachel left Judicial Watch a voice message saying Atteberry had “back-to-back meetings” for days and would not be available. Judicial Watch also sent Atteberry questions via electronic mail to his official city address ([email protected]) but he did not return them. At the time Judicial Watch had launched an investigation and filed a public records request to obtain details about the troublesome case. After the September article was published Ft. Collins officials mounted a campaign to discredit Judicial Watch by claiming there were numerous inaccuracies without offering specifics. In over 126 documents provided to Judicial Watch by Ft. Collins, not one identified a single inaccuracy in Judicial Watch’s reporting.
Conveniently, Ft. Collins officials claim that the records involving the alleged inaccuracies surrounding the police chief selection process cannot be provided because, the “material is so candid or personal that public disclosure is likely to stifle honest and frank discussion within the government.” Specifically, the withheld records involve electronic mail exchanges between city staff, two draft versions of the city’s response to Judicial Watch’s story, removing police chief candidate names from communications, exchanges between city staff members containing draft public statements to the city council about police chief recruitment, updates with four potential finalists and information about terminating the contract with the California-based company (Ralph Anderson and Associates) hired to conduct the city’s search for a police chief.
In denying the records, Ft. Collins asserts that “Intra-city communication contains candid dialogue regarding updating the City Council about the Judicial Watch post and the police chief recruitment and a candidate name is included.” The city also uses the same “intra-city communication” excuse to deny the other records, including exchanges among officials regarding their response to “numerous emails sent by third parties” in the aftermath of Judicial Watch’s story and “candid dialogue regarding preparation of city press release.”
The broad exemption appears to be a ticket to avoid accountability. We can only guess what the withheld exchanges contain. Could the material include lewd photographs, racially derogatory comments, criminal intent, rule violations or offensive language? Judicial Watch is exploring the possibility of litigation to let a court determine if the information gets disclosed to the public. In the meantime, here’s a thought; disclosing material based upon discussions and decisions that are courteous, professional and relevant rarely, if ever, have a “stifling” effect.