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November 14, 2012
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Basalt residents rally to support police chief

BASALT - Police Chief Roderick O'Connor, who is on paid leave, received a vote of confidence Tuesday night from 11 residents who attended a Town Council meeting and demanded to know why he is under investigation and facing possible sanctions.

"There's been so many rumors going around, so much hearsay going around, no one knows what's up," said Basalt resident Kelley Burk. "As a small community, a very tight-knit small community, it's kind of big news, and I don't know if anybody can answer anything."

The answer was no. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said it was a personnel issue, so state law prohibited the town government from speaking about O'Connor's employment. Town attorney Tom Smith said the regulations are in place for the benefit of O'Connor.

O'Connor was placed on paid leave the week of Oct. 8 for reasons that Smith wouldn't specify because it is a personnel issue. The town hired the Mountain States Employment Council to investigate a complaint against O'Connor from an unnamed source. The organization has submitted a report to the town, and it is under review, according to Mike Scanlon, who has been hired as town manager but won't take the post until early December.

O'Connor, 63, has been with the department since 2007 and was appointed police chief in September 2010.

The residents who voiced their support Tuesday night said he has been an exemplary police chief.

Burk said O'Connor had a great rapport with the community, unlike a prior police chief.

"I would say that every public function, we've seen Roderick supporting our community," Burk said. "You see him at the school functions. You see him at the chamber (of commerce) functions. ... He's there. He's out and about.

"I really can't say a bad thing about him. It's just a shame that this is happening. It's just really bizarre. The secrecy is really bizarre."

Burk raised the prospect of getting more people lobbying on O'Connor's behalf.

"As far as public support, if we need to get more people to support him, that can be done," Burk concluded.

O'Connor also got support from the business community. Amy Forsey, owner of Express Yourself and a member of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce board of directors, spoke about how good O'Connor is for the town. Greg Jurgensen, owner of the Brick Pony restaurant and bar, also spoke on O'Connor's behalf.

Basalt resident Sharon Hall added, "He is the salt of the earth. He is rock-solid. If there were any allegations of him doing anything wrong, I would say absolutely that is not who he is."

The Town Council wouldn't budge, offering nothing on O'Connor's status other than Smith saying nothing has been decided yet.

Those in attendance ended their lobbying with this statement from Hall: "If he ends up leaving, it's not going to be a very good mood in the town."

Outside Town Hall, a cluster of eight residents said collectively that they want transparency in the process. They want the accusations against O'Connor to be aired and accusers to be identified. They offered no support for the current leadership of the department. Veteran Sgts. Penny Paxton and Stu Curry are overseeing the department.

The residents said they have the support of "hundreds" of residents who didn't attend the meeting. They kept open the possibility of gathering signatures on a petition to show support for O'Connor.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 14, 2012 06:41AM Published Nov 14, 2012 01:48AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.