Judge could intervene in Routt County sheriff ‘election battle’
March 15, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A judge will likely decide whether to release personnel records for a former Steamboat Springs Police Department officer who has filed to run for sheriff.
On Feb. 1, current Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins filed the request for Kristin Bantle's records with the city of Steamboat Springs.
Wiggins requested any and all personnel records including her application for employment, annual reviews, complaints and anything allowable under the Colorado Open Records Act and the laws that govern criminal justice records.
Bantle filed an affidavit on Jan. 20 stating she was a Democratic candidate for sheriff in the November election, but she said she was still deciding whether or not to run.
On Feb. 7, six days after Wiggins submitted his records request, Bantle terminated her campaign, according to Colorado Secretary of State records.
Bantle then sent an email to the Secretary of State's office on Feb. 27 that stated: "On January 20, 2018, I filed an affidavit with the SOS for sheriff in Routt County. At the time, I thought I had a treasurer lined up, a campaign finance guru but that fell through. I requested my affidavit be inactivated until I found a suitable treasurer. I now have that person on board and would like to reactivate my affidavit as a candidate for sheriff in Routt County."
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On Feb. 28, a candidate fundraising committee was established for Bantle, and her candidate status was "active" as of Thursday. Steamboat attorney Clark Davidson is registered as the agent of the finance committee.
With Bantle again an active candidate for sheriff, Wiggins might have a compelling argument for why the records should be released.
Bantle has declined to give the city consent to release the records.
City attorney Dan Foote briefed city council members about the records request Tuesday.
"There are some strong privacy interests in favor of not disclosing these documents," Foote said to the council. "There is also strong public interest in favor of disclosure due to the fact that Ms. Bantle is a candidate for public office, and we're going to need some help from the district court to get this one resolved, so I wanted to bring it to your attention."
Foote said the process going forward will involve Police Chief Cory Christensen deciding whether the records should be released.
"The first step is the chief will perform the balancing test, and we will basically take his decision to the district court and ask for the court's approval to follow the chief's direction," Foote said.
Some council members expressed concern about the records request.
"My tummy barometer kind of signals I'm not entirely comfortable, but I can't tell you why," councilman Scott Ford said.
Councilwoman Sonja Macys expressed why she felt Ford was uncomfortable.
"Probably because personnel matters are tremendously delicate and sensitive, and there are stringent laws about protecting people's privacy, and this request puts us squarely in the middle of an election battle, and we don't want to be in the middle of that, and I think our best course of action is to pursue legal action as Dan recommends so that we don't have to get involved any further than we have to," Macys said.
Foote said part of the concern related to the records request was a settlement agreement that the city reached with Bantle that involved a $75,000 payout in 2016.
Bantle, who worked for the city from 2011 to 2015, threatened to sue the city of Steamboat after being fired. Bantle claimed she was passed over for promotion numerous times and experienced gender discrimination and a hostile work environment. Bantle told the city she was willing to settle the matter for $250,000.
Bantle did sue Wiggins in federal court alleging Wiggins violated her constitutional right to privacy when he released information related to Bantle’s past illegal drug use she felt would be kept confidential.
Bantle lost the lawsuit in February after a federal judge determined Bantle had no legitimate expectation of privacy.