Clarification: This story and headline were edited to correct the timeline regarding a past censure attempt against Lora Thomas.
By Mike McKibbin / NewsBreak Denver / Aug. 16, 2023
[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] — Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas is likely to be formally censured by her two Republican colleagues after her comments about the county's cultural council.
Commissioners George Teal and Abe Laydon on Tuesday directed county staff to prepare a formal resolution of censure to be considered at their Tuesday, April 22, business meeting. In 2021, Laydon and Teal considered but did not approve a censure resolution against Thomas and directed investigations into her actions last year.
Censure is defined by britannica.com as "to officially criticize (someone or something) strongly and publicly."
Teal called Thomas' conduct "unbecoming that of a Douglas County commissioner and an agent of the state of Colorado."
Laydon said he felt a "great deal of disappointment I can't disagree with you, George."
"It was an uncivil act to our public servants," Laydon added. "We've talked about incivility among this board (of county commissioners) ad nauseam. I've had about 30 complaints from organizations after Commissioner Thomas publicly shamed them with woefully inaccurate information. This is not something the board majority (Laydon and Teal) supports or appreciates."
Thomas voted against her censure, and all three commissioners endorsed the council's original recommendations.
Thomas's newsletters provoke actions
Thomas did not respond to Teal and Laydon's action, which appeared to have been partly prompted by her comments in her Aug. 6 and Aug. 13 weekly Sunday email newsletters. Thomas sent another email newsletter Tuesday night to defend her actions that led to the latest censure effort.
Thomas discussed the commissioner's desire to see the cultural council reconsider their recommendations regarding some $85,000 in excess Scientific and Cultural Facilities District money.
The district, which includes much of the metro Denver area, collects one penny on every $10 in sales and use tax and distributes the money to art, cultural and scientific non-profit organizations. Each of the seven counties in the district appoints local cultural councils to make local distribution recommendations to each county commission that are then sent to the district.
This year, the district had its highest amount of excess revenue over requests in recent years, according to a district official.
Douglas County's commissioners wanted the cultural council to change their recommendations to redistribute the excess money to organizations in the county.
The cultural council met last Thursday to address the request and council chairman James Smith submitted his resignation. Thomas provided a link to Smith's resignation letter in her Aug. 13 newsletter. Teal said Tuesday he heard the remaining six council members were also considering resigning.
Toward the end of the meeting, the council voted 6-0 not to change their $1.5 million allocation recommendations.
"Let's be clear: The elected officials of Douglas County — who are accountable to you, the people of this county — asked an appointed, unaccountable ADVISORY council to keep taxpayer dollars within the county, and that request was summarily disregarded and flatly refused," Thomas wrote.
Last Friday morning, the commissioners met again to discuss the situation. While already resigned, Smith spoke for the council, which Thomas termed "quite inappropriate."
Smith said a dozen organizations would benefit from redistribution, not the public as a whole. He also noted that the commissioners had approved the council's recommendations under the same decision-making process for the past four years "without question."
"Unfortunately, the recent and unprofessional actions —including public shaming by another elected county commissioner — have compromised these values and diminished the council's morale," Smith wrote. "The tactics aimed at manipulating voting outcomes are not only troubling but also undermine our unity and tarnish the county's reputation."
"Despite my commitment to Douglas County," he continued, "the unprofessional behavior of a specific commissioner makes my continued involvement untenable. Publicly shaming an all-volunteer committee is unacceptable and contrary to effective governance. It does not denote the council's subservience. It only showcases the lack of leadership skills by the elected official."
"For the sake of the council and for the reputation of Douglas County, I would expect a public apology from the commissioner in question for their behavior unbecoming an elected official. At a minimum, their behavior must be addressed."
Thomas defends actions
Thomas defended her newsletters as containing factual information and included a link to the county website listing all cultural council members.
"Despite allegations and insinuations, no one was 'doxed,' and no personal information was published and/or disclosed," she stated. "Yet somehow Mr. Smith took great offense at my public reporting and criticism of the cultural council's actions, which were not only dismissive and disrespectful of the elected officials who appointed them, but — even more importantly — of the taxpayers and residents of Douglas County whom those elected officials represent and to whom those officials are accountable at the ballot box."
"The members of the cultural council occupy PUBLIC positions that conduct PUBLIC business, despite the fact that they do NOT accept public comment at their meetings," Thomas continued. "Every single solitary action and/or decision they make must and should be subject to public scrutiny and criticism; that just simply comes with occupying a seat on a public council or commission. Mr. Smith's excessive sensitivity to public criticism seems to indicate that perhaps his resignation was precisely the right thing for him to do. As Harry Truman famously said, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!'"
Thomas also wrote it was unfortunate Smith and other council members "who thumbed their noses at the elected officials who appointed them have taken offense at my unvarnished displeasure and public criticism, even to the point of demanding a public apology."
"Well, in an attempt to make it perfectly clear to Mr. Smith and anyone else who joins in his demand for an apology, I will never, ever apologize for telling the people who elected me and whom I serve the truth about exactly what is going on with their government — especially when it comes to spending THEIR money. If you don't like that, Mr. Smith et al.., then I guess you'll just have to find yourselves a cooler kitchen! Good luck!"
In Thomas' Aug. 6 newsletter, she stated council comments such as, "' I've spent hours working on this recommendation, and if the commissioners want to give us instructions, they need to do so before we start. Not after we are done' were made."
"WOW!" she added. "This is about keeping Douglas County dollars in Douglas County, and this commission essentially told the commissioners to mind their own business!!"