Documents denied

Economic Development board chair refuses access to records

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How the $50,000 Moffat County and the city of Craig have contributed to the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership is being spent isn't a matter of public record, according to board Chairman Les Hampton.

Neither are the committee's goals or the job description and qualifications of the Partnership's only employee.

Hampton denied those records Tuesday on the advice of former county attorney Tom Thornberry.

Thornberry was the third attorney Hampton consulted after the Craig Daily Press made a request for the committee's goals, which were discussed during its December meeting.

On Jan. 4, Hampton was asked to provide a copy of those goals to the Craig Daily Press. On Jan. 8, the paper repeated its request. Both times he agreed.

But he responded by e-mail Jan. 8 stating, "after giving your request some thought, I cannot fulfil the specifics of your request. We are working with an employer/employee relationship. I know you will understand that there is a level of confidence in these relationships."

A formal request for additional documents, including the committees goals, was made Jan. 9.

According to state law, Hampton was required to respond, in written form, in 72 hours.

"This is hardball," he replied, again by e-mail. "I do not intend to be difficult, but I will ask for our county attorney's opinion on this. Until I get a supporting opinion, don't start your clock."

He cited state statutes, his interpretation of which exempted the Partnership because it didn't fit the definition of a governmental agency.

He later called the Craig Daily Press and said he didn't agree with it, but an attorney had advised him to turn over those documents.

Another attorney was consulted and Hampton was advised not to turn over the documents.

Thornberry, who drew up the Economic Development Partnership's bylaws, was paid by the organization to be the tiebreaker.

On Tuesday, Hampton finally refused the documents, on the advice of an attorney and because he said some of those documents contained confidential employee/employer information and some of the goals set by the committee were personal achievement goals for the Partnership's director.

Some board members were kept apprised, ex-officio member Jim Ferree said. But not all are aware of the situation or Hampton's decision.

Board member Bill Johnston said he disagrees with the position the board has taken.

"I think a compromise can be reached," he said. "The board has not met to discuss this issue."

He did say he would refuse to disclose any information that constituted a personnel issue.

Craig City Council member Don Jones said the information requested should be made available.

"Why wouldn't you want the public to have that information?" he asked. "The whole idea was to get the community behind this to get community support."

Jones said the information requested is information he would like to see as a taxpayer and a council member.

Economic Development Partnership board member Scott Cook said he was unaware of the controversy and deferred comment to Hampton.

"I guess the way the committee does its business is everyone's business, but I think some of the personnel issues should not be public," Cook said. "All of us want to make this work."

Hampton attended Tuesday night's regular city council meeting and gave an update on the Economic Development Partnership's progress.

"Within the community the economic development effort isn't going as I'd hoped to report to you," he said. But he felt the board was working forward in a positive manner.

"We've established a course of action and established goals for the partnership to work toward and when we achieve those goals we can press forward and achieve and do some things for the community," he said.

The committee's goals, he said, are to build unity, understanding and support within the community.

"I think the single biggest thing is to create a community that understands and supports what we're doing and that's done with communication, education and information," Hampton said.

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