Citizen waits for FOI compliance while election nears
SUMMIT COUNTY – As of Monday, Littleton resident James McCord still had not received more information on the Freedom of Information (FOI) request he filed in April to find out why former jail captain Mike Phibbs was fired.McCord placed his request three months after appointed Sheriff John Minor fired Phibbs. Both had competed for the appointment.District Court Judge Russell H. Granger of Clear Creek County ordered that all files legally subject to release be given to McCord by Friday at 5 p.m. The information was to include a “privilege log,” which would indicate the nature of 1,500 documents deemed not subject to disclosure.County attorney Jeff Huntley maintains that all required files were released, and said the county needed until Wednesday to complete the privilege log.McCord wants the information before the primary election on Aug. 10, when the race for sheriff between Republicans Phibbs and Minor will be decided.McCord is distressed about the bill.
The county spent $11,468.45 compiling the information for McCord, who said he never expected it to cost so much.”I certainly didn’t ask them to take this open records request and hire an outside law firm,” McCord said. “It really got out of hand quickly and I really felt that they were shirking their responsibility.” McCord requested copies of electronic mail and Internet activity during a several-month period for Minor, Undersheriff Derek Woodman and County Commissioner Tom Long.The county had never seen such a large FOI request.Huntley contracted the Denver law firm, Wells, Anderson & Race, to sort through 10,000 files that were downloaded from the government’s computer system. He is also concerned about the bill and asked Judge Granger Friday who would pay. The bill includes $9,878.81 in fees for the Denver firm, plus $1589.64 for the computer staff’s time to download the original files.The decision on who will pay the bill will likely be decided at a later date in court.McCord is a personal friend of Phibbs. The two attended school together at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs. Huntley called the request a “fishing expedition” and questioned McCord’s motivation.
“Quite frankly, the motivation is to find out the truth,” McCord said. “When you try to find out the truth, I don’t think there’s any issue with where that motivation comes from, whether that truth supports one person or another.”McCord is also a high school friend of his lawyer, Otto K. Hilbert, who contributed $5,000 to Phibbs’ campaign.”That’s obviously between (Hilbert) and Phibbs,” McCord said. “We all went to high school together.”While the county spent more than $11,000, McCord has no idea how much his attorney’s fees will amount to.”I don’t even want to consider (it) because it scares the heck out of me,” the Douglas County high school teacher said. “But do I not hire an attorney and blindly pay that bill, or do I risk spending more money and hire an attorney and hope that I can recoup those fees?”The files he received provide nothing that McCord considered “incriminating.” The “disorganized” box contained 15 percent duplicate files and all were “totally benign,” he said.
Still no peep out of PhibbsUnless McCord’s request yields a surprise, the onus is on Phibbs to discuss the event or issue surrounding his termination. Colorado’s Open Records Act protects employee files from public view. Minor wants to talk and has repeatedly challenged Phibbs to open the file. Phibbs won’t because, he said, it is inaccurate.Sheriff’s office employees who were requested an interview declined to discuss the issue.Huntley predicted Monday that if Phibbs loses, the county will be sued over his termination. Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at email@example.com.
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