Belinda Knisley Tina Peters

SPECIAL TO THE SENTINEL

Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, left, seen with Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, right.

In a smattering of emails to Mesa County commissioners and staff over the past week, clerk Tina Peters rails about comments made about her, defends her sidelined deputy clerk and attacks other county employees, including one of the people appointed to help run this fall’s elections.

In the emails, obtained by The Daily Sentinel through a Colorado Open Records Act request, Peters calls the felony and misdemeanor charges filed against Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley “bogus and unfounded,” complains about “the removal” of one of her election managers, and questions why commissioners were “rushing to usurp my legal authority” by appointing someone else to act as the clerk to the Board of Commissioners, a position Peters’ office controls.

That last complaint, however, was about a mock resolution that was temporarily created as part of a training exercise, which prompted Peters to ask who authorized that training, which included newly hired members of her staff. Peters also questioned why Brenda Wiseman was involved in that training “without my prior knowledge and approval,” saying “we have had numerous issues,” with Wiseman.

Wiseman is an administrative assistant to the commissioners and County Administrator Pete Baier.

In that same email, dated last Friday, Peters goes on to defend Knisely, who currently is facing felony and misdemeanor charges for violating a county order to stay away from the office while the county’s Human Resources Department conducts an internal investigation into numerous complaints filed by members of Peters’ staff that Knisley allegedly had created a hostile work environment and was acting unprofessionally.

“Belinda Knisley needs to defend herself against the bogus and unfounded claims, per the media reporting, of Brandi Bantz, Patricia Inscho and Stephanie Wenholz, and get back to work,” Peters wrote to County Attorney Todd Starr.

“She is well loved by the staff and sorely missed. They all have had several work-related issues that I asked HR and Belinda to address,” Peters added. “If that is on what you are basing the administrative leave of Chief Deputy Knisley, their claims are unfounded and flagrant at best. Chief Knisley should be able to face her accusers and not be out of very important work that she does for the citizens of Mesa County and for me as her clerk who appointed her.”

The emails indicate that Peters continues to work remotely from an undisclosed location. Some indicate that location is in a different time zone somewhere east of Colorado.

Bantz is Peters’ director of elections. She replaced Inscho in that position early last year, who was fired by Peters after barely a month on the job. Wenholz’s title is elections manager-front office.

INFORMATION LEAK?

Peters also identifies several of her own workers by name who she said had filed complaints with the Human Resources office about Knisley, saying “there are 5 people in my office that have reported grievances to HR.” She then questioned “who has inside information into the HR department (who) would leak this information about my staff to the media.”

The public first learned of that investigation from Knisley’s arrest affidavit filed by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office earlier this month.

In that same email, Peters also questions why her other elections manager for the back office, Sandra Brown, was removed “without reason.”

Unlike Bantz and Wenholz, both of whom still work in the clerk’s office, Brown has been implicated along with Peters, Knisley and at least one other as playing a possible role in turning off security cameras to election equipment, which are supposed to be on continuously, and taking images of secure passwords and hard drives, which later were released to voter-fraud conspiracy theorists who published them online or on social media.

Like Knisley, Brown also has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of numerous investigations.

In another email sent to Commissioner Scott McInnis earlier this week, Peters complains about County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, who served as clerk for two terms.

Reiner, along with former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, have both been named to oversee this fall’s elections pending the outcome of local, state and federal criminal investigations into the actions of Peters, Knisely and Brown, along with others.

“Last time I heard the DEO (designated election official) you selected to replace me will not be physically in the office until the end of October and instead my opponent’s boss is running the show in my place,” Peters wrote to McInnis.

She was referring to Bobbie Gross, who Peters narrowly defeated in 2018 for the clerk’s job and will face again in next year’s Republican Party primary. Gross currently works in Reiner’s office as a treasurer and public trustee technician.

Williams has been in the county numerous times since being named the designed election official. He and Reiner have agreed to work together to oversee the fall election.

ON THE JOB

In her email to McInnis, Peters wrote that it would be “super helpful” if he would refrain from making comments about her not being involved in day-to-day duties in her office.

Since Peters attended a voter-fraud conspiracy theory event in South Dakota hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, she has not returned to Colorado. Lindell has repeatedly said he flew her to that event and later to an undisclosed location, and is keeping her hidden because of fears for her safety. (Peters also is the subject of numerous state ethics complaints about allegedly accepting gifts in excess of state limits.)

McInnis, who has called on Peters’ supporters to urge her to return to Mesa County, and has called her office “rudderless” because of her absence, replied:

“I would point out that I suggested you come out of hiding (your words, not mine) weeks ago,” McInnis wrote on Monday. “I am encouraged that it appears for the last week you are back on board, where frankly you should have been a month ago.”

That email exchange only occurred because McInnis was appointed by the commissioners on Monday to replace former Commissioner Steve Acquafresca on the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

That appointment required McInnis to be sworn in by the county clerk, something Peters did virtually. It took McInnis and Peters several emails to arrange that swearing in, in part, because it appeared Peters was confused by the difference in time zones, McInnis later told The Sentinel.