Basalt police chief resigns ‘voluntarily’
Ryan Summerlin November 27, 2012
BASALT – Basalt Police Chief Roderick O’Connor resigned from his position in a settlement with the town of Basalt that remains largely under wraps, O’Connor and the town government announced Monday.
O’Connor was placed on administrative suspension with pay during the week of Oct. 8. The suspension was lifted immediately before his resignation.
“The lifting of the administrative suspension is completed without a finding or implication of misconduct of any kind,” said a press statement that was released jointly by the town and O’Connor. “Further, while matters related to employment are confidential and will be kept confidential, the parties do want to stress that the temporary suspension did not involve any investigation(s) into criminal law violations and/or civil rights violations.”
Town Attorney Tom Smith said town officials were bound by state law and the agreement with O’Connor not to discuss the reason or reasons related to the suspension.
The statement said O’Connor’s resignation was effective Nov. 23.
“This resignation is tendered voluntarily by Chief O’Connor without pressure or influence by the town,” the statement said. “Chief O’Connor wants to thank all those that have indicated support for his continued employment with the town of Basalt, however he believes this resignation to be in the best interests of himself and his family.”
O’Connor received a severance package worth $83,944, according to Smith. That included 10 months of severance pay pro-rated from his salary. The pro-rated amount was $68,677. O’Connor also was paid $7,817 for accrued vacation time.
He also received health insurance for himself and his wife, Denise, for one year. That had a value of $7,500, Smith said.
The resignation came as O’Connor’s supporters were getting organized to try to keep him in the post. They launched a petition drive Nov. 17 and planned to turn in signatures at the Town Council’s meeting Tuesday night. Kelley Burk, an organizer of the effort, estimated roughly 400 signatures had been collected, but she stressed that the petitions hadn’t been collected yet, so that was only a rough guess.
Burk was caught by surprise when informed of O’Connor’s resignation Monday afternoon. Given that he resigned, the supporters likely won’t attend Tuesday’s council meeting, she said, noting that the council has refused to divulge why O’Connor was placed on paid administration suspension.
“I seriously doubt they’re going to say anything at this point,” Burk said. She said the petitions will be submitted to the town manager to try to influence the hiring process for the next police chief.
Burk and other supporters of O’Connor have expressed frustration over lack of information on why he was suspended. A complaint of an unknown type was lodged with the town apparently from within the department. The town hired the Mountain States Employers’ Council to perform an investigation.
Smith previously said that only the employee in question can authorize release of personnel information. O’Connor hasn’t taken that step.
Lawson Wills, O’Connor’s attorney, declined comment Monday on the resignation. O’Connor didn’t return a message from The Aspen Times.
If there hadn’t been a settlement, the town code sets out a procedure for addressing a complaint against a senior staff member, such as the police chief, finance officer and town clerk. The manager would have been required to determine if disciplinary action or firing was warranted. If so, the council would have been required to hold a hearing within seven days to uphold or overturn the manager’s finding.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said O’Connor’s case never went that far. It was handled by the staff without the manager making a decision that had to be reviewed by the council, she said.
When asked if the council could still feel political heat over the O’Connor situation, Whitsitt said, “It’s obvious that Roderick has a lot of friends in the community, including members of the council. It’s been difficult. That’s all I can say.”
Smith said the town hasn’t had a chance yet to start the process to find a successor to O’Connor. There is no formal interim police chief, but Sgt. Penny Paxton and Sgt. Stu Curry are overseeing the department during different shifts.
O’Connor was a patrol officer with the Aspen Police Department from 1999 to September 2007, when he was hired as a sergeant by the Basalt Police Department. He was promoted to police chief in September 2010 when Keith Ikeda retired.
O’Connor, 63, has been married to his wife, Denise, for 14 years.
“They both want to express their gratitude to the town of Basalt for the trust placed in him over the last five years,” the joint press statement said.