Paonia considers legal options after CORA ruling

Delta County Independent: A little more than two weeks after District Court Judge Steven Schultz ruled that the Town of Paonia mishandled an open records request made by a former trustee, the town board met in executive session on Nov. 27 to discuss the outcome. The stated purpose of the closed meeting was to receive legal advice from town attorney Bo Nerlin specific to the case, which the town filed in 2017 against former trustee Bill Brunner on behalf of the Custodian of Record.

On Nov. 9, following three hearings, Schultz ruled that Brunner was improperly denied access to records he requested under the Colorado Open Records Act related to a complaint filed against former town manager Jane Berry by former Public Works employee Eric Pace. Schultz found that the town’s failure to demonstrate good faith or exercise reasonable diligence and make reasonable inquiries before filing the lawsuit entitles Brunner to reimbursement of legal costs and attorney fees. Brunner estimates he is owed $15,000.

In a Nov. 11 phone interview, Mayor Charles Stewart said the town does not agree with Judge Schultz’s finding, and that it is up to the board to decide whether or not to appeal the ruling.

At the first board meeting after the ruling, on Nov. 13, Brunner spoke during the “Visitors and Guests” agenda item, during which visitors have five minutes to comment on any issue not included on the meeting agenda. Reading from a prepared statement, Brunner chastised the town for its handling of Pace’s complaint.

Pace was demanding “a couple hundred dollars in overtime,” said Brunner. Instead of paying it, the town commissioned a private investigator to look into his complaint.

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