At least 114 deleted Basalt text messages between Whitsitt, Schilling
The Town of Basalt has released key information in a recent lawsuit and open records request.
After weeks of legal wrangling over deleted text messages, Basalt’s town attorney has revealed details for at least 114 messages sent between Town Clerk Pam Schilling and then-mayoral candidate Jacque Whitsitt.
“We have no idea what was being said...between someone who’s running for office and someone who’s responsible for the election,” said Basalt resident Mary Kenyon Wednesday.
She requested those deleted messages in an open records request filed April 18. All of the messages are from March 15 and April 12, the weeks before and after the town’s first municipal mail-in election, which ended Tues., April 5.
On Wednesday, Kenyon received cryptic information about the messages, provided by Basalt Town Attorney Tom Smith and Verizon Wireless. It’s not possible to see what was written in the messages because they were individually deleted by both Jacque Whitsitt and Pam Schilling.
“It confirms to me that Jacque was very involved in the workings of this election,” continued Kenyon on Wednesday, “...and [Jacque] deleting the text message, that act, leads me to believe that there was something not good going on in these text messages.”
Kenyon filed six open records requests related to the election, largely because she heard rumors about ballots being handled improperly. She’s concerned Whitsitt was too involved with how the election was carried out. Whitsitt, the incumbent, ended up retaining the mayor’s post by a very slim margin.
Town attorney Tom Smith maintains the deleted messages are not a cover-up for election tampering. He also says Whitsitt and Schilling did not make a mistake by deleting the messages in the first place.
On April 29, Basalt sued Kenyon over her April 18 request to see those messages. That’s because Smith said it wasn’t clear whether they were required under an open records request—even though Smith told town clerk Pam Schilling in an email on April 21 that text messages “constitute correspondence in electronic form and are public records.” Smith advised Schilling to retrieve deleted text messages.
Smith declined to be recorded during an interview Wednesday, explaining that he received details last week from Verizon Wireless about the deleted messages. He did not pass that information about the messages on to Kenyon until Wednesday—well after her deadline for filing a legal response to Basalt’s lawsuit. Smith maintains that he had to consult with Basalt’s town council before forwarding text message records to Kenyon.
Kenyon estimates it took about 20 hours to assemble legal arguments and evidence for her legal paperwork, as well as about $150 in court fees and driving to Eagle. “I am really concerned that the penalty for politely and properly asking for records from our elected officials,” she said Wednesday, “is to be strung up by the nearest tree,”
It’s not clear whether Basalt’s lawsuit against Kenyon will continue. Dismissing the suit will now require consent by her and the town. It’s also not clear if Kenyon will be reimbursed the approximately $150 by the Town of Basalt.
Smith says he’s spent enough time on the lawsuit to rack up about $3000; his fees are paid by the Town of Basalt.