SARATOGA – On Sept. 24, a Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy executed a search warrant on Saratoga’s Town Clerk Suzie Cox, which led to the seizure of her computer tower and various hard drives, according to a Sept. 25 press release.
Saratoga town attorney Tom Thompson wrote the press release, which was provided by the town clerk.
A phone call to County Attorney Ashley Mayfield Davis on Thursday, for information about the seizure, went unanswered.
An email to Davis’ county web address, also on Thursday, with a list of 25 questions concerning this event, went unanswered as of press time.
Because the town’s copy of the affidavit, which accompanied the warrant, was later ordered sealed, none of the town council or any member of the town administration is permitted to provide any information about this seizure beyond the attorney’s press release.
With no information being allowed out of town hall and no response from the county attorney, the question of “why these computer items were seized” and “is the town under criminal investigation” officially remains unanswered.
Further interviews with town council members have determined that the town is not under a criminal investigation.
Councilman Jon Nelson, a very vociferous critic of the town clerk, the town administration and the town’s accounting system, initially declined to accept ownership of this high-profile whistle-blowing action or take credit for initiating this seizure.
Interviews, however, with two other members of Saratoga’s council place the responsibility squarely on Nelson.
Councilman Steve Wilcoxson said, “I was in town hall and I read the affidavit that accompanied the search warrant before it was ordered sealed and Jon Nelson filed the complaint.”
Mayor John Zeiger also expressed the belief that Nelson was responsible for the seizure action.
Both members of council expressed frustration with Nelson’s choice of action since both individuals related conversations they had with Nelson about his concerns for the safety of the historic information stored on the town clerk’s hard drive.
Both individuals said they encouraged Nelson to write a letter to town attorney Tom Thompson and ask him to secure these computer items rather than go to the county attorney. They both expressed disappointment in the very public action Nelson chose.
Nelson, in a phone interview on Friday, did finally acknowledge his “limited” involvement in the seizure incident.
On Sept. 20, after the special council meeting that was called to hire the Cheyenne accounting firm of Childress Accounting and Consulting to study the town’s accounting system with the goal of improving its clarity and transparency, he said, “I felt compelled to secure the town’s hard drive for the new accountant to study.”
This reaction occurred as he was leaving this meeting, with the unexpected announcement by Mayor Zeiger to Nelson and this reporter, with all the other council members gone, that the town clerk’s computer was about to crash and since it was under $1,500, he was authorizing a new computer be purchased to replace the existing machine.
“Would the old hard drive be dumped,” was Nelson’s concern, and “would the information contained be lost?”
After leaving the town hall and failing to reach attorney Kathy MacPherson of the MacPherson & Thompson Rawlins law firm, which represents the town, to discuss his concerns about the safety of the town’s hard drive, Nelson proceeded to Rawlins to discuss with the county attorney his concerns for the safety of the information on the town’s hard drive.
While at the county attorney’s office he did not file an official complaint or sign any document.
“I just expressed my concerns and left,” Nelson said. “I was not aware of any actions taken by the county attorney until I learned of the seizure later.”
Councilwoman Judy Welton was not interviewed for this story.
Is the town functioning?
According to the press release, “The Town of Saratoga has recently (on Wednesday the 25th) been provided by a sheriff’s deputy a (partial) copy of the hard drive contents from the tower that has been seized.”
The Town has also purchased that new computer for under $1,500, according to Mayor Zeiger, for the town clerk to replace the one that was seized.
With this partial data and the help of the town’s IT specialist and some other mothballed records installed on this new computer, the clerk’s office and the town hall staff are striving to get back to the business of running the town, according to Cox.
As a result of this seizure, which was not announced until the next day, the Saratoga Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, with all the council and administration present, was kept extremely short, to just 3 minutes.
This short meeting occurred with a council chamber full of citizens wanting to talk about baseball and left the crowd confused and wondering why.
Only one item was on the agenda, “Approval of the bills.”
The single item under approval of the bills was “Accounts Payable (for) $52, 849.46.”
It was approved for payment by a vote of 4-1, with Nelson voting no.
As an explanation for the abbreviated agenda, Zeiger was brief.
“Due to circumstances this past week, beyond the control at town hall, it was necessary to cut this council meeting short.”
“What we are required to do by law is to pay the bills; so therefore, we will pay the bills and then we will adjourn this meeting,” the mayor added.
Nelson asked the mayor, “Are you prepared to suspend the rules and procedures of the Saratoga Municipal Code 2.04.050?”
The code concerns the order of business at a council meeting.
Zeiger responded, “I have visited with the town’s attorney (Tom Thompson) and he is aware of what we are doing tonight, so I am OK with that, sir.”
In response to after-meeting questions about why the meeting was so short, Councilman Bob Keel said, “The town hall had one of their computers taken away, that inhibited their ability to do such things as payroll and do the agenda from last time. That’s what I was told, as to why we had a short council meeting.”
When asked why or by whom the computer was removed, Keel’s response was, “I don’t think I can legally say anything, but it was legally taken away and we could not use it.”