Dueling in the Times-Call Open Forum

For my non-Longmont readers, or those Longmont residents that don’t get the Times-Call (and if not, why not?), there was an interesting exchange today between myself and sitting Longmont City Council member Karen Benker.  There is so much behind the scenes buried within our statements that it would help if I do a little running commentary through this exchange.  Enjoy.
E-mail should have been in public folder
While perusing some emails on the city’s server (and a special thanks goes to the City Clerks Office), I noticed an interesting exchange between Councilmember Karen Benker and Greg Burt.  Ms. Benker said in one of the emails that she has “emails from folks that substantiate” that Mr. Burt is being paid to “investigate” her.  You may also recall in an Aug. 5 Times-Call op-ed, Ms. Benker quoted an email from Mr. Burt. 

One problem: those emails don’t exist on the city servers.

So either Ms. Benker is lying in that statement, or she has once again ignored the rules about forwarding all correspondence to the city servers (that would be the Colorado Open Records Act).  There has been enough warning to the council members to send these emails.  There is no excuse for Ms. Benker to flout this rule.

In the email she also slings mud at her opponent Katie Witt saying it was too bad she was “going negative in this upcoming campaign”.  But later in the same email, she asks Mr. Burt “So what individual or group has hired you?  What are the terms of your contract?  and How much are you getting paid to investigate me?”  In other words she’s guessing, or else why would she ask?  (the “and How” was her lousy grammar, not mine, just copying and pasting there)

But in her blind sleuth work, she doesn’t mind throwing out a baseless accusation at Katie Witt.

Also in Ms. Benkers op-ed she said “please by wary of what you read in this newspaper” (this newspaper being the Times-Call) and “Don’t always believe what you read.”  Ironic advice from someone with an honesty problem, or is hiding emails.  It’s one or the other, or maybe both. 

This is the kind of dirty campaigning we can expect from Karen Benker – unsubstantiated claims without a clue.  Maybe the civil campaign committee should look into this.
Chris Rodriguez

EDITORS NOTE:  Councilwoman Karen Benker received an advance copy of the above letter through the Longmont Civil Campaign Committee.  She responds to it in the following letter.
MY NOTE:  The Longmont Civil Campaign Committee (LCCC) got a copy of it because I CC’d it to them.  This was to be interpreted as a complaint against Ms. Benker.  I haven’t heard that they “denounced” her for her dirty campaigning, instead they gave her this letter so as to have a heads up and a chance to respond.  Her only response should have been an apology, to both Katie Witt and the citizens of Longmont.  Of course, what she did is quite different, and quite telling.  Until I hear differently from the LCCC, this verifies what plenty of people have said about them, they are nothing but a group formed to support and run cover for their selected candidates.  In other words, it’s a sham.  I’d love to be surprised or proven wrong about this.

By the way, Ms. Benker demanded the Times-Call not run my letter.  Nevermind a longer version of it has already run on my various websites with hundreds of viewings.  This demand of hers, along with some of her statements below shows she really has a problem with freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment.

E-mail was private, addressed campaign
Thank you for the opportunity to rebut the negative letter sent by Chris Rodriguez.  Keep in mind Mr. Rodriguez writes a blog called “Wrongmont”, so that should give you some indications of his beliefs.  (Really, what beliefs are those?  That I point out what’s wrong with Longmont that need fixing?  Like, for example, council members like Karen Benker?  But thanks for the free and unrequested publicity.)

He has accused me of not reporting to my city account an e-mail I received from a friend warning me about Greg Burt (You may now add to that submitting to the Boulder County Assistant District Attorney how Ms. Benker has violated Colorado Revised Statute 24.72.201 Colorado Open Records Act, with 11 attachments, but now probably 12 including this latest outburst).  Here’s what Burt’s e-mail said:  “I’m doing some consulting work for a client in Longmont who is upset with Karen Benker…My client has asked me to catalog the frustrations that Longmont developers have with Karen Benker…He hopes to use this information to persuade voters to vote against her.”  (As you can see this is clearly city business.  It talks about developers and Ms. Benker, not some private matter like “how’s the family, Happy Birthday, etc” that Ms. Benker tries to portrayAlso, names could have been redacted – as stated in the State Statute – if that was an issue, but it wasn’t done.)

Personal e-mails do not have to be forwarded to my city account.  Only e-mails having to do with city business are required to be made public.  This e-mail did not relate to city business.  (This is where she and possibly other council members are flat out wrong.  In the April 29, 2008 Longmont City Council Study Session, Ms. Benker asked then City Attorney Clay Douglas about this very issue.  He told them fairly clearly that it was up to the sender to claim confidentiality – and an administrative regulation and recent verification from the City Clerk backs this up.  The word CONFIDENTIAL must be in the “salutation“, in other words the Subject Line, not within the body of the email.  It is not up to the receiver, in this case a city council member, to determine confidentiality.  But again, this email does refer to city business anyway, so the point is moot.)

Under the city’s new Campaign Finance Act, all independent expenditures made on behalf of a council candidate must be reported to the city clerk within 72 hours.  This was adopted so Longmont voters could know who was funding local campaigns.  Mr. Burt concedes he is being paid by a client from Longmont, but no report has been filed (This makes no sense.  A consultant being paid by a client is not a reportable item unless a candidate is paying them, then it would be a reportable expense.  As Ms. Benker must know, the first reporting period for candidates isn’t for a couple of weeks, so of course it wouldn’t be reported yet.  But her point is the “independent expenditure” provision; to report an independent expenditure one would have to actually expend some money.  Where does it say in these emails or in this op-ed that Mr. Burt expended any money?  Talk about a stretch of logic.).  Later this week, I will file a grievance with the city’s Election Committee reporting our city law is being violated.  (Based on what?  Can she point to something that money was independently expended on by Mr. Burt?  Tip to the Election Committee – just ask that simple question)

Please remember Mr. Rodriguez is suing the city (with the Longmont realtors) (oh, you forgot about a couple former Longmont mayors and other groups) stating our campaign finance law needs to be overturned. (Flat out lie.  This lawsuit is narrow in its scope, it does not call for abolishing the entire Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act, only very small fraction of itWhy?  (Why?  Did you not read the lawsuit, well obviously not based on your previous comment.  Or how about the story in the Times-Call about it?  No?  How about my and other websites discussing it?  No?  Ms. Benker isn’t very informed for a council member.)  One clause in the new ordinance limits the amount of money that can be donated to a campaign.  Previously, there was no contribution limit (in the last election, the Longmont Realtors donated $5,000 to one candidate who won.)  (The LFCPA lawsuit does not address contribution limits nor is trying to raise them or eliminate them, but nice attempt in trying to deflect the readers attention.  And also nice job mentioning negatively the Longmont Association of Realtors – and next time try to get their name right – not once, but twice)

I have signed the Civil Campaign pledge to refrain from negative campaigning.  My opponent has not.  Ask yourself, why?  (Notice all the “why“‘s?  Ms. Benker has a lot of questions but no answers.  Good for her, she signed a meaningless pledge by an equally meaningless committee that is protecting her, and formed by one of her supporters.  Of course, by the very nature of her emails and op-eds she has engaged in negative and uncivil campaign tactics, do you think the LCCC will “de-list” her?  Yeah, I don’t think so either)

Karen Benker
Mayor Pro Tem
City Council Candidate
Whether or not the District Attorneys office takes up this Colorado Open Records Act violation or not, the evidence makes a pretty open and shut case.  Ms. Benker has shown a history of wanton disregard for Colorado’s Sunshine Laws dating back to her days on the RTD board.  In those cases it was Open Meetings complaints (did you know people tried to recall her from that seat?), and now she’s part of a Longmont council who also is having Open Meetings problems to the point of a lawsuit filed by the Times-Call.

In this case it’s an Open Records problem, and regardless of her personal interpretation of what is private and what isn’t, she should know better.  If the maximum penalty for this violation wasn’t written for repeat and intentional offenders like Ms. Benker, than I don’t know who or what would qualify for it.  And like I told the ADA, if this law is not going to be enforced, why even bother having it?

Let’s take a look at that penalty again:  24-72-206. Violation – penalty.
Any person who willfully and knowingly violates the provisions of this part 2 is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than ninety days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Soon you will see the 11 attachments that were sent to the District Attorneys office.  Either here, in the Times-Call, or in a court document.  In them you will see Ms. Benker has absolutely no excuse for ignorance of the law or continued intentional violation of it, in my ever so humble opinion.

But Ms. Benker, you just keep on going after citizens if it makes you feel better about yourself.  Obviously, the citizens of Longmont deserve much better.

About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.
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2 Responses to Dueling in the Times-Call Open Forum

  1. Yep. You pegged the LCCC exactly right. And I have the emails to prove it.

  2. Rick Justice says:

    LCCC – 2 down and 3 to go. Here is my personal view of this issue which ran in the Times-Call Ed/Op page yesterday Oct.2nd,2009. The first 3 paragraphs are below here.

    “Don’t Listen to LCCC”

    A “committee” has been formed to
    “keep Longmont politics polite.”
    Aren’t we lucky to have a group of people whose political and intellectual skills will decide what can be said and done by our local candidates!
    The new Longmont Civil Campaign Committee (LCCC) says that if it doesn’t like what it sees or hears
    it will “contact candidates priv-
    ately” if it decides there is a problem and “review any complaints
    and “speak out publicly” if things
    aren’t resolved. I suppose that means to THEIR satisfaction?
    Beware Longmont:this is a wolf in
    sheep’s clothing whose design is to limit free speech, our treasure
    right to speak out in any manner we choose about any subject with-
    out fear of retaliation. Never listen to anyone who would limit our 1st Amendment rights.

    On the same day that editorial piece ran, the Tiimes-Call made an announcement that 2 of the LCCC
    committee members had resigned. I think the other 3 should also.

    Rick Justice

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