Officials with the town of Basalt have some explaining to do concerning why they allowed what appears to be a respected police chief slip away.
Basalt Police Chief Roderick O’Connor resigned from his post on Friday, after he was put on paid leave Oct. 8. There was no explanation given then, or now, as to what prompted such a drastic measure, which was levied by Bill Kane, who is serving the municipality in a limited capacity as town manager after he himself resigned in August.
We find it questionable why elected officials would allow a town manager who is on his way out to make such a decision. It’s a complete disservice to the community that everyone involved refuses to discuss the matter publicly. It makes you wonder what exactly is going on in Basalt Town Hall, which appears to prefer to keep its citizenry in the dark.
We know that the investigation into O’Connor was not criminal in nature, according to the town, which hired Mountain States Employers Council at $135 an hour to conduct a workplace investigation (it’s still unclear how long the firm spent on the investigation). Mountain States concluded that O’Connor did not engage in any kind of misconduct and the suspension did not involve any investigation into criminal law or civil rights violations.
If it’s a matter of philosophical differences between how O’Connor ran the police department and the rank and file, that’s not enough in our opinion to kick the guy to the curb. Decisions shouldn’t be based on fear of losing cops who don’t agree with how they are managed, if that is in fact what the impetus was for the upheaval. And if this saga really is about law enforcement philosophy, we feel that is exactly the kind of open discussion that should be had between town government and the community.
There has been an outpouring of support for O’Connor from residents in Basalt and elsewhere in the valley, including law enforcement officers in Aspen, all lamenting the loss and saying what a great cop he is.
So why would the Town Council let this happen? That may be a question we never know the answer to, and that is unacceptable. Basalt town councilors are elected to serve their constituents and the people have spoken. Through a planned petition, letters to the editor and in public comments, the sentiment is clear — reverse course, figure out a way to keep O’Connor and rectify whatever the problem was with him. The Town Council should have done more.
The public should not accept the statement that describes the resignation as voluntary — done “without pressure or influence by the town.”
Of course there was pressure. The pressure was applied since at least Oct. 8 when Kane put O’Connor on paid leave. Not only do we believe the secrecy surrounding the matter is unfair to the public, there is a hint of spin here that we don’t like.
This kind of governance doesn’t give the public much faith in the decision-making process in Basalt.
Even Town Councilor Karin Teague acknowledged that the lack of information given to the public is frustrating, and she would be open to re-examining how matters like this are handled in the future.
In keeping the matter secret, town officials are relying on state laws that are designed to protect employees’ privacy in personnel matters. But it’s not like this is the first time law enforcement employees in the valley have either been fired or resigned, and in those cases, the public was informed as to why. Whether it was in the Aspen Police Department or the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, those agencies chose transparency over secrecy. We don’t see how the case of O’Connor in Basalt should be any different.
We’re sorry to see O’Connor go. Basalt’s loss hopefully will be another local law enforcement agency’s gain. He certainly is coming out of this looking like the good guy. The town, on the other hand, has a black eye, and the road to rebuilding trust begins with coming clean.