By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver | May 26, 2022
[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas was accused of staging “a show” by fellow Commissioner George Teal during a Tuesday discussion about an upcoming investigation into allegations surrounding some of Thomas’ actions earlier this year that led to her removal as commission chair.
Commissioner Abe Laydon outlined three allegations against Thomas. The law firm of Sherman & Howard will investigate:
• That she knowingly distributed disparaging correspondence with the full names of first responders and other employees of the sheriff’s department for her political gain;
• That Thomas directed outside counsel to obtain personally identifiable information of people in the San Luis Valley opposed to the Renewable Water Resources project despite board direction to protect that information due to residents’ personal and financial retribution concerns; and
• That she drafted an anonymously written letter to the board in 2019 that included full names of first responders and sheriff’s department employees related to a hostile work environment allegation. Thomas also allegedly distributed that letter on her political website and at this year’s county Republican assembly with the intent to benefit herself politically.
Thomas is running for sheriff this year.
Teal said it was important to determine if a hostile work environment exists in the sheriff’s department, if it was the result of someone’s actions or “do we have a bad system.”
Allegation leads to criticism of Thomas
Thomas addressed Laydon about another allegation he initially did not recall making when Thomas was removed as board chair and replaced by Laydon.
Thomas: “You said you had definite information from a mayor in our county about alleged misrepresentations and that seems to have dropped off the radar.”
Laydon: “I’m not familiar with what you are speaking to and I wouldn’t put any of our mayors in this.”
Thomas: “I just want Abe to know he brought this up and I’d like to know what this is.”
Teal: “If you want to talk to Abe, talk to Abe. We have an entire public forum here and how many times have we heard from people that if we have any squabbles on the board, do those in private. I don’t understand what you’re doing right now other than to make a show of something that’s clearly outside the scope of what we’re discussing and not germane to the discussion.
“If you want to talk to Abe, Lora, call for a recess and go talk to Abe. You want to do a show, we’re behind schedule and you can schedule a show for later. When you’re in Vail next week for (a Colorado Counties Inc. meeting), invite the press and you and Abe can have a discussion. In the meantime, let’s stay on task and give our counsel legal direction. The investigation may clear you and make this nothing but a show.”
Laydon: “Now I’m familiar with what you’re talking about. The only thing I was provided in that instance was the political propaganda disparaging this board and misrepresenting the truth.”
Thomas asked why the county did not undertake a “big investigation like this” when the 2019 letter was received.
County Attorney Lance Ingalls recalled that letter only included the words “hostile work environment.”
“There was nothing specific in that letter than caused me or (human resources) to feel we could investigate and determine if anything would or would not be a hostile work environment,” he added. “People sometimes use that word inexactly but in a legal context, it may not apply.”
Ingalls said he heard more employees might make similar hostile workplace allegations.
“Let Sherman & Howard take the investigation where it needs to go,” he added. “They’re the experts in the field of employment law.”
Laydon responded he did not want the investigation to become a “fishing expedition.”
“We just need some fairly straightforward answers to the first two allegations and the third for George’s desire about the larger systemic issue,” he said. “So I don’t want this to turn into a fishing expedition or free for all to prolong it.”
Teal agreed but said he was “in possession of other allegations of a hostile work environment that I think are germane.”
Laydon said members of the public had also reached out to him with “other information” that posed additional questions.
The direction to Sherman & Howard included expanding the scope of the investigation if they feel it is warranted.