Insurance carrier behind police probe
October 11, 2007
ASPEN ” The agency investigating the conduct of Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson is City Hall’s primary insurance carrier charged with reducing its liability as much as possible.
So when government workers learned that sexual harassment allegations had been levied against Ryerson, City Hall put him on leave and contacted the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) immediately.
CIRSA is currently investigating the allegations and any possible claims.
“When we got put on notice that this was going on, I was directed to notify CIRSA,” said Peggy Carlson, City Hall’s risk manager.
CIRSA has been the city’s insurance carrier for 25 years, and this year’s premium is $330,000, Carlson said. Coverage includes everything related to the city’s liability ” property, casualty, personnel, and City Council, among other areas. The only portion of the city that is not covered by CIRSA is workers’ compensation, which is handled by Pinnacle, Carlson said.
City Hall files about 40 claims with CIRSA annually, including car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents and some lawsuits.
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“They investigate every claim we file,” Carlson said.
The most recent high-profile investigations that CIRSA has completed for the city relate to the Aspen Police Department ” the incident of an APD officer using a Taser gun on an elderly woman and former APD officer Kimberly Hay’s wrongful termination lawsuit.
Both investigations were completed in a relatively short amount of time, but done thoroughly.
“If there are employees involved, [CIRSA] wants to make sure they have all the information they need,” Carlson said.
The city of Aspen is one of about 170 municipalities that CIRSA covers in Colorado. All of those cities pay into one pool and if any entity is hit with a significantly large liability, premiums go up for all cities, Carlson said.
CIRSA’s investigation could wrap up as early as this week and the probe ultimately will determine if Ryerson was involved in improper conduct.
City officials won’t comment on the investigation, Ryerson’s employment status or the allegations. The City Council met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss the matter with City Manager Steve Barwick and special counsel Jim True.
City Councilman Jack Johnson said he wouldn’t provide details on what was discussed, but said, “The City Council takes it seriously and the city manager takes it seriously.”
Council members are limited in what they can know or do in a situation like Ryerson’s. That’s because the city of Aspen operates under a city manager form of government, meaning the manager ” Barwick ” has ultimate control of who is hired and fired. The council only has purview over the city manager’s employment.
Ryerson had been put on leave sometime last week but it didn’t become public knowledge until days later because no official statement was issued. The police force didn’t know until Tuesday ” when the news broke in local newspapers that Assistant Chief Richard Pryor was acting as the police chief while Ryerson is gone.
First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg said while city government has the legal right to keep personnel records under wraps if sexual harassment allegations exist, it still could inform the public that it’s occurring without jeopardizing the investigation.
“Generally, the public has a right to be informed on the conduct of its government,” he said. “I don’t think it’s improper to confirm that an investigation is going on or a complaint is filed.
“I’ll leave it to the city about not speaking on a matter that concerns the public.”
Johnson said city government aims to be transparent on all matters ” but there is a place and time for information to be disclosed.
“I think at this time, the city administration is acting appropriately and I believe that any results of any investigation … to the degree that it’s a matter of public record … it will become a matter of public awareness,” he said, adding Ryerson’s reputation is on the line, as well the identities of those making the claims.
“I regret that the people’s right to know is frustrated by the person’s right to privacy but it can’t be otherwise.”
Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.