El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder didn't take kindly to the Independent's cover story last week about a misstep in his office, so he made a spectacle of his disapproval.
At a hastily called news conference on Nov. 8, the day the story came out, Elder spent more than 45 minutes berating the story as "crap" and the reporter, me, as "irresponsible."
The Indy's story, "Law and Error" explored allegations by a former employee, Rick Dietz, that he and another worker, Dave Mejia, were ordered by Sheriff's Office Administrator Larry Borland to notarize hundreds of deputy oath affidavits in April 2016, more than a year after many of the oaths were given and without witnessing the officers' signatures, which is in violation of the state's notary statute. The oaths were then filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office by Elder's Chief of Staff Janet Huffor.
Dietz told the Indy he and Mejia interpreted Borland's directive as a direct order to notarize the oaths or risk retaliation. (Mejia, who works for another county department now, hasn't responded to multiple phone calls from the Indy seeking an interview.)
At the Nov. 8 news conference, Elder contended Dietz and Mejia did witness the signatures, because they attended the swearing-in ceremonies at Pikes Peak Center and elsewhere. Dietz denies he was there. Elder also insisted the oaths didn't require a notary stamp.
At the Nov. 8 news conference, Borland denied he gave that order, and Elder contended Dietz and Mejia took it upon themselves to notarize the documents all in one day in April 2016. "Nobody has ordered anybody to do anything," he said. "The notary by notarizing something that he didn't witness, that's on him. That's not on me."
(In June 2017, Dietz resigned from the Finance Division, where he'd been moved when the Sheriff's Office abolished its human resources department, after he received a seven-page reprimand for what he considered a minor miscue, the only disciplinary action he received in 13 years working for the county.)
Prior to publishing our Nov. 8 story, the Indy asked for interviews with Elder, Borland, Huffor and Communications Director Jackie Kirby, but they "kindly declined," Kirby said in a Nov. 1 email.
Elder gave equal time at the news conference to the Indy's posting in August of his candidate affidavit that bears his home address. At that time, the affidavit bore a Sheriff's Office phone number as the candidate's contact point. Campaign laws prohibit use of public resources in political campaigns. Elder has since changed the phone number but his address remains on the document.
The Indy removed the affidavit from the blog within a day, at his request, though it's a public record and is recorded online. (Other candidates, mindful of privacy, often list post office boxes in that field.)
Elder viewed the blog post as a threat to his and his wife's safety. "That was absolutely the most irresponsible thing I could ever imagine," he said. "That's why everybody in government wants nothing to do with answering your questions."
Elder, a Republican, faces a challenge for his seat from Republican Mike Angley, a retired Air Force officer.