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December 18, 2012
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Investigation of police chief costs town of Basalt $9,348

BASALT - The town of Basalt was billed $9,348.75 Tuesday for the investigation it commissioned into the management practices of former police chief Roderick O'Connor.

The investigation by the Mountain States Employers Council in October totaled 69.25 hours at a billing rate of $135 per hour, according to the invoice.

Town officials consulted with Mountain States on Oct. 11 after someone within the police department filed a complaint against O'Connor. The town has not disclosed the nature of the complaint or the person who made it.

O'Connor was placed on paid administrative leave by former Town Manager Bill Kane on Oct. 15. An investigator with Mountain States was hired the same day. He billed for preparing for interviews that day, the invoice shows, and then he came to Basalt and worked 27.25 hours over the next two days. Town officials have said police-department employees were interviewed for the investigation.

Mountain States billed the town for another 32.5 hours preparing the report after the interviews were conducted, according to the invoice. The report was issued to the town Oct. 26.

Town officials contend that the report is part of O'Connor's personnel file and won't release it to the public. The Aspen Times filed a legal complaint against the town contending that the report is a public document. The newspaper is asking a judge to rule that the town must hand over the report under the Colorado Open Records Act.

As part of that legal battle, current Town Manager Mike Scanlon stated in an affidavit that it was necessary to hire Mountain States to conduct the investigation and issue a report in case he needed to determine if disciplinary action or termination was required with O'Connor. However, O'Connor resigned Nov. 23 under conditions that both sides said were voluntary. His suspension was lifted, and he faced no disciplinary action.

"Because Roderick O'Connor resigned on terms acceptable to the Town, the Report has at all times remained pre-decisional," Scanlon stated in the affidavit. "It was not the basis for any official action. The Town Council accepted Mr. O'Connor's resignation without reviewing the Report."

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the $9,348.75 was a necessary expenditure. The town, like other small municipalities with limited staff, is fortunate to be able to tap into Mountain States' expertise on personnel issues, she said.

Since the town doesn't have the need for a full-time, in-house director of human resources, the amount billed for the O'Connor investigation "is probably a deal," Whitsitt said. "If we had an in-house (human resources) person, it would cost 70 or 80 thousand (dollars) plus benefits (per year)."

When asked if she had an opinion on how Basalt taxpayers will view the expenditure on the investigation, Whitsitt said, "I think anybody that's been in business or dealt with personnel issues will think it's money well spent."

The $9,348.75 will be paid out of the town's general fund, like any consulting fee or legal expenditure, said Basalt Finance Director Judi Tippetts.

The town also agreed to a $83,944 settlement package with O'Connor that includes 10 months of pay, compensation for unused vacation time and health care coverage.

Combined, the settlement and investigation cost the town $93,292.75.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 19, 2012 06:02AM Published Dec 18, 2012 11:38PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.