HR director had info in police chief case
November 12, 2007
ASPEN ” City human resources director Rebecca Doane provided information in the investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson, who resigned Friday.
Doane’s direct involvement in the investigation prevented the human resources department from participating.
“I was interviewed as a witness in the investigation, so it would be completely inappropriate for someone involved to participate in the decision-making process,” Doane said. She declined to elaborate on what she told the investigator, but it was related to Ryerson’s misconduct.
Typically the human resources department would be involved in such an investigation, which lasted at least five weeks. The human resources department oversees the personnel issues of the city’s 275 employees ” but not Ryerson’s.
Ryerson was put on paid administrative leave on Oct. 3 after the city’s insurance carrier, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA), launched an investigation.
That agency determined that Ryerson did, in fact, engage in misconduct related to sexual harassment allegations, but it didn’t rise to the level of requiring severe disciplinary action, said City Manager Steve Barwick.
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Barwick offered Ryerson his job back on Wednesday. Ryerson declined it two days later. With the resignation, Ryerson will receive a free family pass to the Aspen Recreation Center for two years and will be able to live in his city-regulated house for two more years.
Doane said she didn’t know that Ryerson had been offered his job back or that he resigned until she read the newspapers. Her reaction is similar to that of many in the community.
“I am extremely happy that this situation has finally been resolved,” she said.
Barwick said he was following CIRSA’s recommendation to reinstate Ryerson. CIRSA determined that there was no great risk or liability by having Ryerson return to his post.
The results of the investigation will remain confidential. However, sources said the report didn’t reflect well on Ryerson’s conduct.
Ryerson announced his resignation during a press conference Friday at City Hall. He gave no specific reason and didn’t say what he’d do next.
“I feel that it is in the best interest of the Aspen Police Department for me to resign,” Ryerson said in a prepared statement shortly before he and his wife, Mary, left the press conference without answering questions.
He apologized to former Aspen police officer Renee Rayton, whom CIRSA’s investigator, Timothy Leary, also interviewed. Several other former department employees interviewed also alleged sexual harassment, or were witnesses to it.
“I wish to extend a sincere apology to Renee Rayton for the harm she has suffered,” Ryerson said at the news conference. “She is an excellent peace officer who deserves the support of the community.”
Barwick said there will be additional training for city employees related to sexual harassment as a result of the investigation.
Doane, whose job is protecting the rights of city employees and implementing polices and procedures, said that is an appropriate response by City Hall.
“I believe that whenever there is a discovery of misconduct within an organization, management is compelled to assure that similar issues are not occurring elsewhere and to install controls that will guarantee there will be no future instances,” she said.
Doane said she hasn’t discussed what those controls will be, but she expects to talk to Barwick this week about possible actions. Once they are established, the city will share them with the public, she said.
Doane said she regrets that more details about the investigation haven’t been released, but state law prohibits city officials from discussing them publicly.
“The problems all organizations face whenever serious personnel actions take place is that the public enters the picture without the facts,” Doane said. “Invariably, the situation becomes a public debate as we saw recently with the termination of a nurse at Aspen Valley Hospital.
“It is frustrating and disappointing when the employer is prohibited from sharing the facts and basis for their decisions,” Doane added.
Since Ryerson was put on leave, there has been lot of speculation from community members, who came out in both support for and opposition to the embattled police chief. A full-page ad in local newspapers last week listed more than 100 residents who supported Ryerson. Others who were critical of Ryerson wrote letters to the editor calling for his removal.
“Members of the community take sides and make judgments that are completely without real information,” Doane said. “I am deeply disappointed at the degree to which this happens in our community. It’s destructive, and it saddens me.”
Assistant police chief Richard Pryor, who has been acting police chief since Ryerson went on leave, will serve as interim police chief until a replacement is found.
Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com.