Clapper: I acted as a mom, not as Pitkin County commissioner
October 27, 2009
ASPEN – Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said Monday she has intervened as a mom, not as an elected official, in a dispute between her daughter and the U.S. Forest Service.
“There is no power play here,” Clapper said. “My role is I’m her mother.”
Clapper’s 20-year-old daughter Traci filed a formal complaint with the Forest Service over what she felt was an illegal search and seizure on Sept. 4 (see related story). Patti Clapper sent a copy of the complaint to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams from a Pitkin County fax machine with a cover sheet that included the county logo and letterhead. The cover sheet’s “from” section identified the sender as Traci Clapper with “(Patti Kay-Clapper)” written above her daughter’s name. Patti listed her cell phone number as the contact in case there was a problem with the transmission.
Clapper said her actions were appropriate. Traci asked her to send the fax because they don’t have a fax machine at their home and didn’t have access to another machine. Clapper said she followed county procedure. County commissioners and staff are allowed to use county fax machines for personal business as long as they pay for the use, which she said she did.
Her actions might have conflicted with the “Standards of Conduct for Pitkin County Officials.” A section in the official county document on advocacy states: “When presenting their individual opinions and positions, board members shall explicitly state they do not represent their body or Pitkin County, nor will they allow the inference that they do.”
Clapper said that she placed her name on the cover sheet of the fax to ensure her actions were transparent. “It’s protocol – you fill it out,” she said.
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In addition, she noted that she met Fitzwilliams the day after the fax was sent when he unexpectedly attended a county commissioner meeting about a forest access issue in Lenado. During a break in that meeting, Clapper said she told Fitzwilliams she was not acting as an elected official on behalf of her daughter in the complaint over Forest Service law enforcement.
After that encounter, Clapper sent Fitzwilliams “three or four” e-mails from a personal account trying to learn when there would be a response to Traci’s complaint. One of the exchanges was over the chain of command: The law enforcement branch of the Forest Service doesn’t answer to forest supervisors, which Fitzwilliams explained to Clapper.
“Patti didn’t make any suggestions that she was trying to influence me,” Fitzwilliams said. When asked if it was appropriate for Clapper to e-mail her daughter’s complaint from a county fax, Fitzwilliams responded: “I have no idea. You’ll have to ask the county about that.”
Clapper suggested that if she was trying to curry favorable treatment for her daughter by intervening, she would have aimed higher than the forest supervisor’s office in Glenwood Springs. Clapper said she would have contacted officials at the Forest Service’s regional office in Lakewood or at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Clapper has met a variety of Forest Service officials during her six years in office while working on policy issues because Pitkin County contains so much federal land.