November 10, 2007
ASPEN ” Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson has resigned amid sexual harassment allegations by former employees, one of whom he publicly apologized to Friday.
Ryerson, who has led the APD for the past six years, made the announcement Friday during a press conference at City Hall. His wife, Mary, was by his side. The couple and their family will continue to live in city-regulated housing for two years.
Ryerson was placed on paid administrative leave five weeks ago after an investigation was launched by the city’s insurance carrier, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA).
The results of that investigation were given to City Manager Steve Barwick on Monday. And although CIRSA determined that Ryerson did in fact engage in misconduct related to the sexual harassment allegations, it didn’t rise to the level of requiring severe disciplinary action, Barwick said.
Barwick said he offered Ryerson his job back on Wednesday with no conditions. However, Barwick said some disciplinary action would have been taken against Ryerson. Barwick wouldn’t elaborate on what that action was, citing that it’s a personnel matter and the state’s open records laws limit what he can divulge.
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.
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Barwick said no deals were made, and he didn’t discuss with Ryerson what options he had.
The results of the investigation will remain confidential. However, sources said the report didn’t reflect well on Ryerson’s conduct.
It wasn’t until around 2 p.m. Friday that Ryerson told Barwick he was resigning. 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 Mary left the press conference without answering questions.
Assistant Police Chief Richard Pryor, who has been acting police chief since Ryerson was put on leave Oct. 3, will remain in that position until a replacement is found.
City department heads noticed months ago that a common theme had surfaced in exit interviews from former police department employees who were critical of Ryerson’s leadership and management style. Some alleged sexual harassment, including former APD officer Renee Rayton, who was one of the first people interviewed by CIRSA investigator Timothy Leary.
Ryerson on Friday issued a public statement to Rayton, who left the APD in May to take a job as a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy.
“I wish to extend a sincere apology to Renee Rayton for the harm she has suffered,” Ryerson said. “She is an excellent peace officer who deserves the support of the community.”
Barwick said Rayton never filed a complaint with the city.
“Renee Rayton has been portrayed by some as an instigator or as a complainant in all of this,” Barwick wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to Aspen residents. “She has been a very reluctant participant in the investigation. Renee has been a real professional throughout this process …”
Ryerson, who began working at the APD in 1984, will not receive any severance pay or any other compensation except that his family will continue to live in the house Ryerson purchased from the city of Aspen for the next two years.
“This was rather sudden so in lieu for the 23 years of service to the community and his family’s needs, we agreed to let him stay in his unit for two years,” Barwick said. “A city employee ordinarily has to leave their unit within six months of leaving their city job, and Loren is being allowed to stay in his unit for two years.”
Ryerson also will receive a family pass to the Aspen Recreation Center. Barwick said he gave him that perk because he asked for it.
Barwick said he wasn’t surprised by Ryerson’s resignation.
“It’s difficult to operate in any high level government position after allegations like this,” Barwick said, adding that there are pros and cons with Ryerson leaving.
“Loren had his strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else,” Barwick said.
New policies and procedures concerning sexual harassment will be put into effect in City Hall as a result of the investigation.
“There will be additional training for city employees,” Barwick said.
Barwick said he hasn’t considered who will replace Ryerson, or if he will advertise the position nationally.
“I haven’t thought about that,” Barwick said. “Let’s wait a week or so. … Let’s just sit for a bit.”
The position pays between $89,893 and $123,993. Ryerson was making $104,000 when he left.
Whether Pryor is interested in the position remains to be seen. But he will be considered for the job.
“Our standard policy is to promote from within,” Barwick said.
Morale within the department during the past several weeks has been high, according to Sgt. Bill Linn. Barwick, who informed officers on Thursday that Ryerson was returning, said the morale has fluctuated since the investigation was launched.
“It’s been up and down,” Barwick said, adding he planned to inform APD officers Friday night of Ryerson’s resignation.
“From the outside looking in, the service has never suffered for the people on the street,” he said. “The officers have performed admirably the entire time. I really appreciate their professionalism.”
Barwick said this has been one of the toughest situations he’s been in since he became city manager in 1999.
“It’s certainly one of them,” he said. “It’s been a tough week … it’s time for a cocktail.”
Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.