Plaindealer’s request for county records heads to court

  • County Administrator Connie Hunt
    County Administrator Connie Hunt
  • At left, Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery holds the first box of 100 COVID-19 vaccines received in December. On the right, County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd is pictured. The Plaindealer has asked the county to provide records of administrative disciplinary action against Boyd and Kingery.
    At left, Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery holds the first box of 100 COVID-19 vaccines received in December. On the right, County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd is pictured. The Plaindealer has asked the county to provide records of administrative disciplinary action against Boyd and Kingery.
Body

A district court judge will decide whether the public has access to disciplinary records for the two Ouray County employees who have been at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The Ouray County Plaindealer requested performance reviews and disciplinary records for Health Department Director Tanner Kingery and Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd after a January meeting, in which County Administrator Connie Hunt curtailed their hours and referenced a personnel issue involving the two employees.

During the joint policy meeting held Jan. 7, Hunt said she would be reprioritizing Boyd and Kingery’s work. In response to elected officials’ questions about what would be removed from their workloads and how overtime would be handled, she responded nothing would be taken off their plates and stated it was a “personnel issue” and did not provide more details.

Kingery and Boyd have repeatedly asked for more resources and assistance during the pandemic. They have both regularly worked overtime since March, according to time sheets reviewed by the Plaindealer, obtained with a public records request.

In response to the records request from the Plaindealer on Jan. 12, the county initially did not release any documents. Later, officials released redacted versions of Boyd and Kingery’s work performance evaluations but refused to release the disciplinary records.

County Attorney Carol Viner responded these records are part of the employees’ personnel files and are not public, and their release could “do substantial injury to the public interest.”

In arguing for the records to be released, the Plaindealer has cited case law which narrowly defines personnel files as information kept due to the employer-employee relationship, such as personal identifying information like social security numbers or addresses.

The Plaindealer has retained Denver attorney Steven Zansberg, who specializes in First Amendment law and has argued previous court decisions necessitate the release of the records.

In response to receiving a draft complaint last week, which the Plaindealer intended to file in court to obtain the records, the county itself filed a request with the court and named Plaindealer co-publisher Erin McIntyre as the respondent in the case. An initial status conference is scheduled for Monday.

The county filed a request with District Court Judge Steven Patrick asking him to determine whether the records should be released. Along with that request, the county also filed a motion to prevent the Plaindealer and its attorney from using Kingery and Boyd’s names in court, stating it “may cause a scandal which would be injurious” to them. The county also asked the court to close the hearings, making it impossible for the public to attend.

The county asked the court to strike the names, titles or genders of the employees from court records, claiming it violated their privacy. She also asked the court to prohibit the Plaindealer from “releasing the employee names, titles or gender to anyone either orally or in writing for the pendency of this action.”

This request for a pre-emptive strike is ridiculous, said Zansberg.

“The notion that public employees’ (department heads’) names and genders  – especially after they’ve been the subject of numerous discussions at public meetings and their names and video statements appear on the county’s official website — is ‘highly personal and private information’ shows how truly laughable the county’s position is in this suit,” Zansberg said. “Frankly, I am at a loss to understand how county officials can refer to a single judicial precedent while blatantly ignoring the numerous other authorities we provided them that show the fallacy of their position.” Zansberg added, “They certainly can’t claim they weren’t forewarned.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the hearing on Monday will be a status conference, not a hearing.