McFarlane’s golden parachute |

McFarlane’s golden parachute

For someone who spent about a year and a half working for the Aspen Police Department, Valerie McFarlane sure made an impression.

Officers periodically appear on page 1 of the local newspapers, but usually in the context of a crime committed by someone else. McFarlane, owing to lapses of judgment and ethics, was the central figure in a number of news stories that culminated with her Feb. 26 resignation.

Though she only worked for the APD for roughly 15 months – her employment began Aug. 27, 2008, and lasted through February 2010, with a three-and-a-half-month leave of absence in early 2009 – it was something of a wild ride.

In September 2009, she was suspended for four days after using her badge to attain free entry to a Jazz Aspen Snowmass concert. And last month she ran into trouble after an encounter with Aspen Daily News Editor Troy Hooper, in which she appeared to give Hooper favorable treatment under the law in exchange for favorable treatment in his newspaper.

Suffice to say it’s a good thing that she’s no longer on the police force.

What’s not a good thing is that she received a severance payment of $10,000. This may have seemed like a practical maneuver to ensure McFarlane didn’t slap the city of Aspen with a wrongful termination suit, but from a moral standpoint it looks like a reward for bad behavior.

Police Chief Richard Pryor explained the payment this week by saying, “This is a compassionate community and when we can have latitude to provide support, I think we should do that.”

It’s certainly true that this is a compassionate community, but would the city show such compassion for a longtime officer with a spotless record who simply retired? What does an outstanding officer have to do in order to receive such generosity?

This situation is reminiscent of former police chief Loren Ryerson, who continues to live in city-owned affordable housing after having stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment in November 2007.

We understand that city officials probably wished to cut their losses and ensure that the McFarlane fiasco ended, once and for all, with her resignation. But $10,000 in “hush money” just feels wrong, especially in light of McFarlane’s obvious breaches of police ethics. This dismissal (it may have been a resignation, but we doubt it was purely voluntary) was entirely justified by McFarlane’s performance, and the city should have followed higher principles.

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