A local watchdog group is poised to take legal action against Delta County using grant funds from the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).

JoAnn Kalenak, President of Delta County Citizen Report (DCCR), said she will begin legal action against the county on behalf of the non-profit organization regarding previously withheld public records by Delta County officials.

DCCR will use $4,600 from the Knight FOI Fund, administered by the NFOIC, to support legal action to obtain county records which Kalenak said were withheld by Delta County.

The grant funds will defray legal costs to challenge the county’s CORA practices. In addition to the grant, DCCR is currently raising funds to pay for attorney fees not covered by the Knight FOI Fund grant.

Kalenak said local community members have contributed almost $3,000 of the estimated $6,500 needed to challenge Delta County and continue the non-profit’s regular coverage of public meetings and government activities.

In the DCCR press release, Kalenak said the county withheld public information on two occasions in 2019 and later required a payment of more than $4,000 to fulfill a third open records request in 2021.

“Open records are a vital transparency right afforded to all Americans. Delta County must be held accountable for violations and improvements to the system must be made,” stated Kalenak.

According to Kalenak, all three open records requests (CORA) asked for the credit card spending records of County Administrator Robbie LeValley. Kalenak said the county’s response to two CORA requests made in September 2019 claimed that no such records existed prior to Nov. 14, 2018.

Kalenak said that one former county commissioner and two former Delta County employees testified in sworn statements to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission that LeValley possessed and used a county-issued credit card prior to Nov. 14, 2018.

According to Kalenak, a third request for ‘virtually’ the same information on March 24, 2021. At that time County Public Relations Officer Darnell Place-Wise told DCCR that the requested information would cost more than $4,000 to obtain.

“It’s obvious to us that the county does not want to provide the information. After the second request, administration even brought in County Attorney John Baier to write a letter stating that Ms. LeValley did not have a credit card for the first six years of her employment as Administrator,” Kalenak said. “Mind you, we’re talking about the highest-ranking county employee, and the county wants us to believe that she did not have a county-issued credit card in all that time.”

In an email response to the DCCR press release, Place-Wise said Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValley did not have a Delta County credit card in her name until November of 2018.

“Any records prior to then, regarding a credit card in Robbie LeValley’s name, do not exist,” said Place-Wise.

“With regards to DCCR’s CORA request, which generated an invoice for a significant charge, the information requested was for all financial (credit card) records that spanned several years, prior to 2018. Those records are not in an electronic format,” Place-Wise said. “Our finance director would have had to go to the storage unit, locate and sift through boxes upon boxes to find the relevant requested records, copy them, and then redact vital information on every document. That would obviously take a significant amount of time.”

DCCR attorney Chris Mochulsky is expected to send a notice to the county informing it that DCCR intends to file CORA action in the next few weeks. Attorney Steve Zansberg, a widely-recognized expert in media law and President of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, has agreed to consult with Mochulsky during the process, according to the DCCR press release.

Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.

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