Police chief review needs to be open process in Basalt
November 16, 2012
Friends and supporters of Basalt Police Chief Roderick O’Connor are frustrated over the lack of information coming from the town government about an internal complaint against the popular lawman.
That frustration is understandable, but the town is truly in a tough position. The town contends that state law prohibits it from releasing personnel information, including a complaint. But there is a catch. The information can be released with the consent of the employee in question.
O’Connor isn’t talking about the complaint against him or the investigation Mountain States Employment Council undertook on behalf of the town. A report on that investigation is in the hands of town officials, we are told, and awaiting a decision by the town manager.
As it happens, the manager’s position is in the process of turning over, prolonging the processing of O’Connor’s situation. Former Town Manager Bill Kane – who remains acting on a limited, contract basis – made the decision to place O’Connor on paid leave the week of Oct. 8. Mike Scanlon was hired to replace Kane and will take the position in early December. Meanwhile, town Finance Director Judi Tippetts has been appointed the interim manager. It is unclear who will act on O’Connor’s status and when.
Meanwhile, a segment of the public simmers. Eleven people attended Tuesday’s Town Council meeting to show their support for O’Connor and to try to get answers from the council. They left with no answers but vowed that they could rally “hundreds” of people to O’Connor’s support.
We think O’Connor should give the town government permission to release the complaint against him along with the investigation results, so the public can weigh in on the issue in an informed manner. Right now there is too much conjecture and speculation about the nature of the complaint. No facts are available through the tightly controlled process.
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The public deserves more. The position of police chief is important. He or she defines the way the department interacts with the public.
Any person in law enforcement is certain to have detractors. Yet O’Connor appears to be extremely popular. It would be a disservice to have his fate, the direction of the department, set in a closed setting.
O’Connor, 63, has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley since 1979. He worked a variety of positions before entering law enforcement. He traveled with and assisted in training with Thomas Crum, a master in conflict resolution, peak performance and stress management. O’Connor was a police officer in Aspen for eight years before joining the Basalt Police Department as a sergeant in 2007. He was appointed police chief when Keith Ikeda retired in September 2010.
Crum, a friend and business associate of O’Connor’s for 32 years, claimed in a letter to the editor that the complaint against O’Connor is an “inter-departmental struggle” and was made in a way to disable O’Connor’s ability to address the issues.
O’Connor should take action to open the complaint for public scrutiny and then respond to the allegations. That process would serve Basalt better than the slow, cloaked procedure now being taken.