La Plata County CORA

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt’s public calendar and expense reimbursement records show no indication of her doing public business during a trip to Washington D.C. in May, despite using her role as an elected official to participate in a press conference regarding a federal methane regulation with two U.S. Senators.

According to Lachelt’s calendar and reimbursement documents obtained by Western Wire through a Colorado Open Records Act request, no documentation in connection with travel to the nation’s capital on or about May 9 is available, nor is there a request for reimbursement for travel-related expenses associated with county advocacy on the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule.

Lachelt’s calendar that day indicates she had accepted an appointment that morning (redacted under Colorado Revised Statutes), as well as a local Rotary Club meeting that evening. She also had three “tentative” events scheduled, including a county “Business Agenda meeting.”

Last week, Lachelt told Western Wire she traveled to Washington in her role as a county commissioner, departing May 8 “to meet with members of Congress” on the upcoming BLM methane rule vote, along with other recent trips.

“I traveled to Washington in February, April and May,” Lachelt wrote via email. “As a La Plata County commissioner, I represented the county at the National Association of Counties conference in February; a congressional briefing in Washington in April on the Commerce Department’s new accounting for the outdoor recreation economy impact on GDP; and, I traveled to Washington May 8 to meet with members of Congress regarding the CRA vote on the BLM Methane Rule.”

Lachelt said the costs were paid by Western Leaders Network while describing the trips to Washington as part of her official role as county commissioner and a leader for the new nonprofit.

“In reference to the trips I took this year to DC to advocate for the methane rule – all travel expenses were covered in the Western Leaders Network budget,” she wrote.

Launched earlier this year by Lachelt, the Western Leaders Network pays a salary to the county commissioner in addition to travel expenses for visits to Capitol Hill. “I’m the founder and director of WLN. I’m paid a salary,” Lachelt wrote to Western Wire.

Lachelt would not disclose the organization’s funders when asked by Western Wire.

The embattled commissioner received a county-level ethics complaint in June, as reported by Western Wire, and will likely face an additional conflict of interest complaint from Durango resident David Peters this month. Peters told Western Wire he planned to file his complaint with Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission by mid-August.

The calendar also does not contain any indication that the commissioner would be out of the office or otherwise unavailable for the week of May 8 – 12. The joint press conference with Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) took place May 9, and a video of the event was included in Bennet’s press release that day.

In the video and before national media, Lachelt introduced herself as “a county commissioner from La Plata County, Colorado” and did not reveal her WLN affiliation despite the group paying for her travel.

While subsequent media reports did not mention Lachelt’s affiliation or position with WLN, the organization’s social media account posted on Facebook and Twitter, touting Lachelt’s efforts on the BLM methane rule. “Western Leaders Network has been in D.C. all week fighting to keep the BLM methane rule,” WLN posted to Facebook the day after the press conference.

via Western Leaders Network Twitter

The group’s Twitter feed included a picture of Lachelt and fellow WLN board member Don Schreiber behind the podium used at the Bennet/Cantwell event.

On May 10, the U.S. Senate voted down a resolution, 51-49, to begin a debate using the Congressional Review Act to reopen consideration of the BLM methane rule issued in November 2016.

CORA records indicate Lachelt applied for $567.63 in reimbursement for the February 25 to March 1 National Association of Counties conference for event registration, a meal, and ground transportation. Hotel and flights to and from Washington were not included.

The NACO conference is listed on Lachelt’s calendar, but the calendar does not say whether Lachelt specifically would be out of the office for any portion of the days the conference took place.

Lachelt’s calendar also shows “Gwen Out of Office” twice in April, from April 13 to 17 and again April 25 to May 1. There are no corresponding reimbursement requests for official county business.

In contrast, for a separate NACO conference held in Oregon in late May, the calendar shows both the conference days covered and that Lachelt would be “Out of Office” for the week. Lachelt’s reimbursement requests for the May conference include conference registration, meals, and hotel expenses totaling more than $1,300.

*La Plata County employee Sarah Jacobson explained to Western Wire the county’s calendar designations: a blank box represented an item or event shared from another calendar, a striped box indicated that an event or meeting was tentative or had not been accepted, and a solid box meant the event had been accepted. She cautioned, however, that the boxes did not represent an indication or confirmation of attendance.