A new controversy is brewing at the Lake County courthouse.

Sheriff Amy Reyes accused the Board of County Commissioners at a public meeting on Monday afternoon of improperly accessing her office’s emails. The BOCC has denied all allegations.

The sheriff also accused the BOCC of lacking transparency around finance and meeting procedures. “There is no accountability in county government here in Lake County,” Reyes said.

The email saga

According to Reyes, the BOCC asked former Lake County IT Director Johnny Aird to grant the board and/or its legal team global access to the email inboxes of Reyes and former Lake County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers Maria Chavez, Nicole Garner and Chelsa Parsons.

Chavez, Garner and Parsons were the first to accuse former Lake County undersheriff Fernando Mendoza of sexual harassment and are currently suing the BOCC in civil court for unlawful sex discrimination, retaliation and violations of rights.

According to Reyes, Aird asked for a court order or directive signed by the BOCC before granting the board access to the email accounts. The BOCC refused to do so and allegedly threatened Aird with his job. Aird said he granted the BOCC access to the emails on Sep. 4, informing Reyes of his actions shortly after.

Though Aird told the Herald that he fully supports Reyes’ claims, he said he could not comment further until meeting with an attorney.

Aird also told Reyes that he downloaded a log to watch what LCSO emails were being exported and by whom. Aird later showed the sheriff a set of emails for Chavez, Garner and Parsons that had allegedly been exported by a user entitled “bocclegal.”

Reyes showed the alleged email exports to the Herald. The newspaper has no way of determining the authenticity of the exports at this time.

If Chavez’, Garner’s and Parsons’ email accounts were indeed searched and/or exported by the BOCC or their legal team, individuals outside LCSO would have had access to confidential client files including victim information on domestic violence, child abuse and rape cases, Reyes said.

Reyes recently received the discovery agreement for Chavez’, Garner’s and Parsons’ civil case, a court document that outlines protocol for the search and production of electronically stored information related to the lawsuit. If the allegations are true, the export of the email accounts the Herald saw would have been beyond the permitted scope and time period of the discovery agreement.

“I think she is operating under erroneous information,” Commissioner Sarah Mudge told the Herald in response to Reyes’ allegations. “There should be no controversy here.”

Lake County Government's handbook emphasizes that electronic messages are not private, explaining that elected officials and department directors retain the right to monitor, review, store and disclose all information sent over email without notice to the employee. The handbook does not address a case of one elected official accessing another elected official's emails without his or her permission.

Aird’s termination

According to Aird, he filed for workers’ compensation on Friday, Sept. 13, with a note from Rocky Mountain Family Practice citing acute stress, and did not go in to work. Lake County Human Resources Director Lorry Parker could not confirm or deny Aird’s statement due to HIPAA, which requires medical information to be kept confidential.

On Friday morning, the BOCC held three consecutive executive sessions, all of which were recorded, to discuss personnel issues and gain legal advice.

Though Lake County Clerk and Recorder Patty Berger is usually responsible for posting public meetings, Mudge posted notice for Friday’s executive session without Berger’s knowledge. Mudge told the Herald that she posted the meeting because Berger was out of the office on Thursday; Berger said she was present except for lunch.

The BOCC directed Parker to proceed with what had been discussed in the executive sessions after the close of the third meeting. Aird was notified of his termination via email later that day; he was not present at the executive sessions.

According to Commissioner Mark Glenn, Aird had a turbulent relationship with Mudge and Commissioner Kayla Marcella. “I just went along with them,” Glenn said of his vote to fire Aird. “In retrospect, I made a huge mistake.”

The sheriff goes public

Reyes brought her allegations to the BOCC meeting on Monday after tipping off the media. The sheriff confronted the commissioners head-on and distributed a handout outlining her accusations and her worry over the county’s finance and meeting procedures.

Mudge immediately denied that the BOCC had inappropriately accessed LCSO’s emails and told Reyes that it was not appropriate to discuss ongoing litigation at a public meeting.

Marcella denied the claims to the Herald the morning after the meeting. Glenn said he had no personal involvement with Reyes’ allegations.

Before Reyes confronted the commissioners, the BOCC approved a contract with Forensic Pursuit for a third-party audit and ongoing IT support. Mudge later expressed concern over the safety of the county’s server.

“We are just trying to clean the windshield at this point,” Marcella told the Herald.

In regard to county management, Reyes expressed dissatisfaction with meeting procedures, contracts with third-party vendors and the finance department.

Reyes is not the first to allege misconduct in relation to county finance procedures. Former  Lake County Human Resources Director Whittney Smythe-Smith is in the process of pursuing civil litigation against the BOCC and the finance department for not adhering to state statute in regard to posting salaries in the newspaper, amidst other concerns.

The sheriff also incorrectly accused Marcella of making $2,000 over the approved commissioner salary, which is set by state statute. Marcella, who missed the first pay period in 2019, is set to make $63,316 as outlined in statute once her pay periods are adjusted.

Moving forward

Before going public with her allegations, Reyes brought the email saga to the attention of Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown.

Brown will not open an investigation into the sheriff’s allegations at this time. The DA told the Herald that, at this point, there is not a basis of information to show criminal activity. The DA’s Office could revisit the case at a later date if more evidence presents itself.

With no criminal case at hand, it seems the email controversy will have to be addressed internally. There is also potential for civil litigation from each side.

“People in this community shouldn’t have to feel the results of us not being able to work together internally,” Marcella told the Herald on Tuesday morning.

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