Recall wavers on e-mail grab | AspenTimes.com
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Recall wavers on e-mail grab

Allyn Harvey

Attempts to obtain the e-mail of County Commissioner Mick Ireland spilled into the private sector last week, placing a local computer consultant in the middle of the latest recall spat over the outspoken commissioner.

But now, in light of the nearly $3,000 it will cost to get it, the Committee to Recall Mick Ireland isn’t sure it wants the e-mail after all. Attorney Millard Zimet says the group is on the verge of dropping its week-old request so it can take “high road” instead.

“Millard Zimet called my personal computer guy – Ward Hauenstein – to see if he could get all of my e-mail on a disk,” Ireland said.

Ireland is sorting through more than 14 months’ worth of e-mail stored on the computer in his law office, picking out county-related communications from thousands of messages that have nothing to do with his public role. It is part of the county’s effort to comply with an open-records law request for all of his e-mail relating to county business dating back to January 1, 1999.

Ireland questioned the legality of seeking help from the private sector in retrieving personal messages and communications that are covered by attorney-client privilege. The open-records law requires local and state governments release most of their documents to the public.

Zimet denied the accusation. As the recall committee’s attorney (he is also a member), Zimet says he simply intended to confirm that computer consultant Hauenstein performed work the county said he did.

“My query to Ward was simply `What did you do?’ As a matter of logic, how can I possibly obtain Mick’s e-mail that way from Ward?” Zimet said. “On top of that, he told me he did not have the disk. Why would I ask for something he does not have?”

Hauenstein’s version is a little closer to Ireland’s, but nevertheless lies between the two.

Hauenstein, an employee at Forward Computer, landed in the middle of the latest effort to unseat the commissioner after he was named in a letter to Zimet from the county outlining the costs of accommodating Zimet and his group. The March 3 letter priced Hauenstein’s work on retrieving Ireland’s e-mail from his office computer at $300.

Hauenstein said Zimet called him Friday – March 3 – and asked if all of Mick’s e-mail dating back to January 1, 1999 could be placed on a disk.

“My response to him was, `I can’t tell you, because I haven’t read any of his e-mail. And even if I had for some reason, there is no way I could divulge any information about it.’ “

Hauenstein, who regularly services computers for both Zimet and Ireland, said Zimet made it clear that he did not want Forward Computer to provide him with disk containing that information. He was simply asking if it was possible.

Zimet had been wondering if it was possible to put the e-mail on a disk ever since he received the letter, which makes it clear the county has no intention of providing the recall committee with a computer disk full of Ireland’s e-mail.

Instead, the county has offered to provide paper copies once the recall committee forks over $2,843. The breakdown of the tab includes $2,000 to mine e-mail from the county servers, $543 to sort it all out and the $300 for Hauenstein’s service. And that simply buys committee members the right to look at the e-mail; if they want copies to take home, they have to pay 50 cents per page.

“It’s in electronic form right now – for them to print them out is more expensive than putting them on a disk. My clients now have to decide whether they want to blow half their campaign budget on this,” Zimet said.

County code limits spending on county elections, including recalls, to an amount equal to the number of voters in the last general election. In November 1998, 12,547 people voted in the general election, so each side of the recall campaign is limited to spending $12,547.

“It’s not 100 percent yet, but my clients are close to deciding that they don’t want to pursue the e-mail production. Instead, they’re going to take the high road and ask voters what kind of government should we have in Pitkin County,” Zimet said.

Zimet said even if the committee doesn’t follow through with the request, he’s confident someone else “totally unrelated to the campaign” will.

Ireland is facing his third recall since becoming a county commissioner in 1993.

Commissioner Bill Tuite and Ireland were put to the recall test in 1996 for their leading roles in the adoption of zoning rules that set strict limits on size of homes in the backcountry. Their opponents were able to force an election, but voters retained both men in office. Last fall, anti-rail spokesman Jeffrey Evans sought to unseat Ireland and three other commissioners following their decision not to put the question of rail funding to a public vote.

The latest effort comes on the heels of the Jan. 10 adoption of a countywide moratorium on new development applications for large homes and new subdivisions. Recallers, however, say it’s Ireland’s rudeness and disrespect for constituents – as reflected in his e-mail – that they object to.


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