Police chief’s fate could land in lap of Basalt Town Council
November 17, 2012
BASALT – Roderick O’Connor’s fate as Basalt police chief could be decided by the Town Council, but there is no guarantee that the public will ever know the details of his case.
Basalt’s Town Code outlines the process that must be followed for “discipline of an officer.” Officers are defined as the police chief, the town clerk and the finance director.
The town manager is assigned the duty of assessing whether actions taken by an officer are grounds for discipline or discharge. If the town manager decides that firing is warranted, the decision is forwarded to the Town Council for a hearing within seven days.
“At the hearing, the officer may present evidence and witnesses on his or her own behalf, be represented by counsel and cross-examine witnesses,” the town code states in Section 2-74. “Such officer may be discharged by the Town Council if the Council finds that such officer committed one or more of those acts set forth” in a different section of the code.
Town Attorney Tom Smith said that provision of the code is designed to prevent the manager from making a unilateral decision on employment of the other top officers.
O’Connor has been on paid leave since the week of Oct. 8 for unspecified reasons. Town officials received information that spurred them to hire the Mountain States Employers Council to perform an investigation on O’Connor’s actions as police chief and write a report on the results. The Colorado company is a consulting firm that helps paying members with employment law, human resources, employee surveys and training and development.
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There is no indication that any criminal investigation is part of the case.
O’Connor has not responded to numerous messages from The Aspen Times requesting an interview. His attorney, Lawson Wills, has declined comment on the issue.
Numerous members of the public, most of whom are supporters of O’Connor, have demanded at a Town Council meeting and in letters to the editor more information about any allegation or allegations against O’Connor. Smith said provisions of the Colorado Open Meetings Law prohibit the town government from releasing any personnel records. He said he could not disclose the general nature of the allegation.
Smith said Town Manager Mike Scanlon still is reviewing the Mountain State Employers Council’s report on O’Connor’s case. Scanlon was hired last month and will officially take the position the first week of December. He is already performing some duties as town manager.
It’s not definitive if the issue will require a decision by Scanlon or a hearing by the council. Private settlements are often negotiated in government employment disputes. The Colorado Open Records law allows settlements on personnel issues to be kept private, Smith said.
Based on Smith’s comment that the issue remains in Scanlon’s hands, it appears that no private settlement has been reached.
If Scanlon makes a determination that triggers a hearing by the council, that meeting will be closed – which is called an executive session by government.
“It’s a closed meeting unless the employee who is the subject of the meeting (decides) to have it considered at a public meeting,” Smith said.
In other words, the option of whether the hearing is open or closed is up to O’Connor, if it goes to a hearing.