The question could truly be asked, what’s really going on in Buena Vista; as a man’s reputation may be being ruined by character assassination, and the integrity of entities from the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce, to the Chaffee County Democratic Party have been questioned, because they have refused to allow innuendo and unproven accusations to win out over facts.
What underlies the repetition and spreading of what appear to be false rumors regarding Mike Sorrels, formerly owner of Liars Lodge B&B, surely amounts to bullying, may constitute defamation, and calls into question both the economic and competitive motives of those spreading what remain unconfirmed rumors.
It began in November during the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce member round tables regarding the staff-restructuring decision, as agitation by non-member Erin Godonis, owner of Mountain River Inn B&B. It has become a repetitive mantra on the Facebook group called ‘Whats really happening in Buena Vista,” most claims being made by “Erin McGodo.” The claims being made include labeling Sorrels a convicted felon and include a #Felon(name) hashtag. The postings go on to claim that Sorrels committed crimes in and around Buena Vista.
An investigation by Ark Valley Voice’s justice specialist revealed there is no Buena Vista police investigation of any current charges in town limits against Sorrels, nor any record of felony. Liar’s Lodge is located on county land. Ark Valley Voice talked with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, regarding Godonis’s claim “that he is a convicted felon with an illegal firearm,” made on the What’s Really Happening in Buena Vista Facebook group. The Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that they found no basis for her accusations and no charges have ever been filed.
Similar searches conducted by the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce, and the Chaffee County Democratic Party, also uncovered no felony charges and nothing that would indicate any wrongdoing in this community.
“We got pressure from these folks telling us we better change our holiday gathering,” said Chaffee County Democratic Party Chair Susan Shepard. “We investigated the rumors – believe me, coming from serving on the Denver City Council I know how to be careful about this – and we found nothing. We honored our contract with Liar’s Lodge, and had a great event.”
The motives of the effort to discredit Sorrels, and attack the BV Chamber, appear connected to the resignation of former Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce director Kathi Perry. She left after 26 years with the chamber, when the chamber board of directors restructured the staff. According to a chamber document, the changes better meet the mission of Buena Vista businesses, “allowing this staff of four to properly devote their time to the diverse needs that our community demands.”
Buena Vista Chamber Board President Jerianna Bennetts said that the chamber did conduct a background check on Sorrels. “It came up 100 percent clean, there is no felony or criminal record. When this allegation was raised, we did an initial audit (Sorrels was treasurer of the chamber) which was also clean. But we are doing another, more comprehensive, financial audit going back three years, and will be issuing a statement soon.”
The character aspersions do not stop at Sorrels. Most recently, a post on the What’s Really Hapening in Buena Vista group about the Jan. 23 chamber board meeting, posted by “Erin McGodo” said the board “was puzzled by a $516 City Market charge for Business After Hours. I looked back through my minutes and over the last 4 years, our average monthly BAH charges at City Market were approx. $30. Humm. Who had the credit card last month, what was bought and who’s signature is on the charge?”
Asked about this, Chamber Vice President Tanya Wyles, said she had Membership Specialist Jon Cobb get a paper copy of the City Market bill so she could see who had signed the charges. “It turns out that most of the charges were from the fall, October and November, when she (Perry) didn’t pay the City Market bills, and there was one December charge,” said Wyles. “So it’s no mystery.”
While the attempts to discredit Sorrels, could be seen both as sore grapes and an attempt to bring down the owner of a competitive B&B, another concerning reality lies in the willingness of some in the community to believe rumors and unfounded claims. Sorrels, in a past conversation with Ark Valley Voice, admitted that some ten years ago in his youth he, like many youth and many now-upstanding citizens, was guilty of some indiscretions due to an addiction. He said he took responsibility for his actions and sought help for addiction.
In the fact of the on-going attacks, Sorrels has shut down Liar’s Lodge B&B. Ark Valley Voice contacted Liar’s Lodge Jan. 24 and spoke with Carl Bauer, the owner of the building, who declined to comment, other than to say that Sorrels had shut down the business.
The Chamber, for it’s part is staying the course.
“Mostly I am upset that this is happening to our town,” said Bennetts. “People shouldn’t believe rumors. Our stance is to stay on course and do our job to serve the businesses of Buena Vista.”
Editor’s notes: Presumption of innocence is the basis of our criminal justice system, according to the Cornell Law Office’s Legal Information Institute. “One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holds that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged.” America does not try people in the court of public opinion. Spreading rumors and unproven claims on a social media site is the antithesis of our justice system process. Even if there were an open case, it would have to go through a court; ordinary citizens are neither law enforcement, nor prosecutors.
Defamation is an area of law that provides a civil remedy when someone’s words end up causing harm to your reputation or your livelihood. Libel is a written or published defamatory statement, while slander is defamation that is spoken by the defendant.
Multiple Ark Valley Voice staff contributed to this article.