The complaint that led to the investigation of Basalt’s police chief, who resigned Nov. 23, came from within the department, sources with knowledge of the situation said this week.
But in interviews Thursday, all of the remaining six members of the force declined to say who filed the complaint against Roderick O’Connor or why.
“You’re talking to the wrong person,” said acting co-police chief Sgt. Penny Paxton, referring questions to Mike Scanlon, the new town manager.
Paxton’s colleague and co-acting chief Sgt. Stu Curry, like the officers under him, said he didn’t want to comment for this story.
Officials, too, remained about as talkative as the town’s namesake rock, refusing to answer questions that included who filed the complaint and why; when it was filed and with whom; if O’Connor was contacted about the complaint or whether former town manager Bill Kane went directly to the Mountain States Employers Council, which investigated the complaint; when that outside group was brought in; and when O’Connor was notified of the complaint and investigation.
The investigation found no “implication of misconduct of any kind” and that O’Connor’s suspension “did not involve any investigation(s) into criminal law violations and/or civil rights violations,” the town said in a Nov. 26 press release.
O’Connor, 63, who received an $83,994 severance package, said he resigned for personal reasons and also declined comment when asked about the complaint, calling the matter confidential.
Town officials initially said they could not discuss the reason for the suspension because doing so could invite potential litigation. The press release announcing O’Connor’s resignation said matters “related to employment are confidential and will be kept confidential.”
The investigation by the Mountain States Employers Council (MSEC) into O’Connor resulted in a 46-page report prepared for the town. MSEC is a human-resources and employment law business.
“We don’t even comment on whether we did an investigation or not,” said Jody Luna, MSEC’s manager of workplace investigations.
Town Attorney Tom Smith said in an email Tuesday that the report will not be released “without a court order.”
An attorney for The Aspen Times wants a judge to issue such an order.
Because the report “was prepared for and delivered to town officials for their use in the exercise of official functions, the report is unquestionably a ‘public record’ subject” to the Colorado Open Records Act, wrote attorney Steve Zansberg in a letter to the town.
Smith said Zansberg is filing a court motion to compel the town to “show cause” as to why the report should not be released.
“This case is now in litigation, and accordingly I have advised all town officials and employees not to discuss this matter further with anyone,” Smith said via email.
The numerous letters to the editor supporting O’Connor and decrying the secretive investigative process have resulted in officials reviewing the town’s personnel policies, Scanlon said in an email Tuesday.
“If we have proposed changes for the Town Council to consider, it won’t be until late January,” he said.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she agreed with reviewing the policies, though she said she wasn’t sure if corrective action is needed.
“That’s what a review is all about,” she said.
Asked if she thinks such a review will be a priority for the town, Whitsitt said, “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be way up there.”
Paxton said the police department has been able to compensate for O’Connor since he resigned and that there has been no drop-off in its ability to respond to calls.
“It’s great,” she said of department morale. “We’re all good.”