I rarely write about anything that happens beyond Snowmass Canyon. I get annoyed when I see letters printed in the papers about Aspen issues when the writer lives in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs or beyond, so in an effort not to be hypocritical I try to keep my nose in Aspen’s business. This week I’m making an exception.
When the Roderick O’Connor saga went down in Basalt, everyone in the valley was aching to know what the seemingly kind, well-respected police chief could have done to be forced out of his job. Our imaginations ran wild. Was he sexually harassing female subordinates? Was he taking payola to cover up crime in Basalt? Did he secretly wear his wife’s undergarments beneath his uniform? We were expecting the likes of a Lifetime TV movie.
Angst over the chief’s ouster spread beyond Basalt, and everyone had questions. They were answered last Saturday, when “the report” was released to the public, thanks to a lawsuit filed by The Aspen Times. I read the entire 46-page report, and the accompanying 86 pages of supporting documentation, and became infuriated somewhere around page five.
In a nutshell, Basalt Sgt. Penny Paxton filed a complaint against O’Connor, claiming she was discriminated against because of her gender, that she was treated in a condescending manner and that her promotion was delayed by three months without justification.
New rule: You’re not allowed to have an opinion on this ridiculous melodrama unless you’ve read the documents. Rest assured that, when read in its entirety, it’s a complete exoneration of O’Connor on two of Paxton’s three charges, and a shameful indictment of the behavior of Paxton and some of her colleagues.
Many of Paxton’s claims relate directly to fellow officer, Sgt. Stu Curry. Paxton claimed that O’Connor delayed her promotion for three months. Her definition of “delay” meant that her promotion came three months after Curry’s, who was promoted at the same time O’Connor was elevated to chief.
Paxton is quoted in the report: “Chief O’Connor did not promote me at the same time [as Stu]. About two to three months after Stu was promoted, [Stu] went to Chief O’Connor and asked him why I hadn’t been promoted.”
That statement is and was false. From the report: “… there was a period of time between Chief O’Connor’s promotion … and Sgt. Paxton’s … but that period was sixteen days, not approximately three months as Sgt. Paxton estimates.” So she either didn’t check her employment record before filing a complaint against the chief of police, or she dramatically over-estimated the time to the investigator. You decide.
More telling is the fact that, in her mind, the chief is required to promote subordinates when they think they’re ready, not when he does. Time and again, using her own words, the report shows how entitled and preposterous Paxton’s view of her position within the department is.
Paxton, again quoted in the report: “… Chief O’Connor came into my office and told me I needed to go to the wildfire meeting. I told him that we need to learn to say no sometimes to these extra activities and that I didn’t have time to do it.”
Huh? Since when does the subordinate get to tell the boss what she is or is not going to do? Paxton lives in a fantasy world where she can disobey a direct order from her boss, then use that as evidence for a case of gender discrimination. The report only gets more ludicrous after that.
It does portray O’Connor as a man oblivious to how he was perceived by others. But there’s not a single shred of evidence that he discriminated against anyone based on gender, or that he was intentionally disrespectful towards Paxton. At worst, it portrays a man who was more concerned with recycling and plant watering than interpersonal communications.
The most important fact in the report — by its omission — is that Paxton never discussed her concerns with O’Connor. She had the cajones to file a grievance with the town, but she couldn’t summon that same bravado to have a conversation with her boss, and blames him for that, too.
O’Connor was allowed to resign with $84,000 of taxpayer money, and Paxton remains on the job. Considering what he went through, O’Connor deserves every penny. Although it’s not clear who made the final call, Basalt Finance Director Judi Tippetts and the town manager appear to be the ones who let O’Connor leave with $84,000 and keep Paxton, based on nothing more than a questionable management style. The Basalt mayor and Town Council all played ostrich and buried their heads in the sand, pretending they had no control over the process or outcome.
So what’s going on in Basalt Town Hall? How could these clowns allow this to happen? There’s plenty of blame to go around, but two individuals caused so much anger and division within the community that it cannot be ignored.
Paxton should resign. Her completely baseless accusation, that O’Connor discriminated against her based on gender, is outrageous. Her actions caused unrest among the community, anger towards the town and its police department, and temporarily cost a decent man his reputation. And any defense attorney could point to her recollection of 16 days as three months and have his client acquitted of the charge.
Whoever made the call in Basalt Town Hall and decided the best resolution was letting O’Connor leave with $84,000, and Paxton stay, also should resign. This occurred at the same time the town claimed it didn’t have enough money to hire more officers, which everyone agrees was needed. Had administrators in Basalt been competent, this may have turned out differently. Basalt’s mayor and council members also bear some of the burden, as they are ultimately responsible for what happens in their town.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor and his soon-to-be new officer, O’Connor, are the winners of this fiasco. Pryor was smart enough to see through the crap and is poised to hire the experienced, beloved former chief for our team. O’Connor, despite his previously soiled reputation, got away from a toxic work environment with $84,000, found a new job in Aspen, and had his good name restored. Paxton, town administrators and Basalt’s elected officials are the ones who look like fools.
Doug Allen thanks APD officers Brian Stevens and Kirk Wheatley for their professionalism in handling an accident in front of his home Wednesday night. Reach him at Doug.Allen75@yahoo.com  or follow him on Twitter @Doug__Allen (two underscores).