GREELEY – A Weld District Court Judge will determine whether an employment file sought by Complete Colorado for more than a year is subject to open records laws.
The file pertains to Weld Clerk and Recorder candidate Elisa Kunkel. Kunkel is a former employee in the clerk’s office. She has been vocal in Weld government politics for more than a year when she first asked the Weld County Council to order a performance audit on the Weld Clerk and Recorder’s office and her former employer Carly Koppes.
Complete Colorado originally requested the file in 2016 after Kunkel accused Koppes of several issues in her office associated with Kunkel’s employment.
Weld County disagreed, and Complete Colorado chose not to pursue the issue at the time.
Colorado courts have held that CORA exempts personnel files from disclosure, but defined the personnel records exemption very narrowly. Essentially, they have protected personal demographic information in the records such as social security numbers, bank accounts, and other information needed in order to do business with the employee.
However, they have ruled on several occasions that such things as disciplinary records and compensation information are open.
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Director Jeffrey Roberts said what Complete has requested should be disclosed under CORA.
“Essentially, you are not entitled to “personal demographic information” in the records, such as home addresses, home phone numbers,” Roberts said. “You should be able to CORA for disciplinary records and compensation information.”
Roberts wrote a blog on it in 2016 as reference for reporters. More cases confirming Roberts’ interpretation have since been decided. In one of those cases, the courts released the names of teachers in Jefferson County Public Schools and their used sick time. The records were requested by the media after allegations the teachers staged a “sick out” to protest district policies, among other things.
Kunkel has maintained since she first reported her issues to the Greeley Tribune that she has never had a bad performance review until Koppes, but refuses to turn over her complete employment record to validate the claim.
Late in 2017, Kunkel announced she was going to challenge Koppes for the Republican nomination for the clerk’s office in the 2018 election.
Complete Colorado again requested the file as Kunkel was running for public office and she continued to base her qualifications on her tenure and employment history in the motor vehicle office.
Shortly thereafter Complete Colorado reported that Kunkel was suing Koppes for causing her embarrassment for having to learn new job skills, which led to anxiety and depression disorders that kept her from being able to do her job. She said in her lawsuit that she used up her Family Medical Leave Act because of it. She filed her lawsuit one week before announcing she planned to challenge Koppes on the Republican ticket.
On Jan. 3 Complete Colorado requested the file based on the new information. On Jan. 8, Weld County attorney Bruce Barker notified Complete Colorado via email that he would make a decision by Jan. 12.
Barker also voluntarily sent Complete Colorado a copy of a CORA request filed by Greeley Tribune on Jan.8, to confirm the two CORA’s were similar in scope and that he would notify both publications of his decision by Jan. 12.
On Jan. 12, Complete received notice that the county would ask a Weld District Court judge to make the decision and named Complete and the Tribune as parties to the case. The petition says Patty Russell, the custodian of the record, is “unable in good faith, after exercising reasonable diligence, and after reasonable inquiry, to determine if disclosure of the public record is prohibited or required.”
Kunkel has cited morale problems among others in the clerk’s office. She eventually asked the Weld County Council, an oversight body of Weld County government, to perform a performance audit on the clerk’s office.
That review, released in 2017, by an outside auditing firm from California pointed to a list of things they believed the office could improve on. Most of the items required funding. The Board of Weld County Commissioners repeatedly denied Koppes the requests for the funding prior to and since the audit.
Kunkel’s issues with Koppes involve a demotion she received from Koppes after she allegedly yelled at colleague using vulgar language in front of customers in the motor vehicle office. Former coworkers say it was a pattern of behavior that had gone unpunished by previous administrations.
She appealed her demotion to an outside panel that upheld the demotion, but then appealed it further the Weld commissioners Barbara Kirkmeyer, Mike Freeman and Julie Cozad who overturned the demotion.
Commissioner Sean Conway recused himself because he is Koppes’ uncle and Commissioner Steve Moreno recused himself because he was the former clerk and recorder and supervisor over both women.
Kunkel was then moved to the Southwest Weld office, something she claimed was in retaliation for her request for the audit. Commissioners eventually transferred her out of motor vehicles into the planning department to “separate her from Koppes,” but allow her to work in Greeley.
Kunkel has also been accused of processing her own paperwork on a new car purchase and using a fraudulent address outside of Greeley to avoid paying taxes on the vehicle. She then allegedly changed the address back to Greeley to get her license plates.
Complete Colorado has a pending Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request with Colorado Department of Revenue, who conducted an investigation into the matter.
Kunkel has not returned requests from Complete Colorado to release her file on her own, she refused the same request from the Tribune.