Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas has been removed from her position as leader of the board for the second time almost exactly one year after it happened initially.
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In a Tuesday work session, Commissioner Abe Laydon introduced the subject during general updates, saying Thomas had written a letter requesting private information about supporters of a water project being considered by the county.
“We were very clear as a board that we did not want to put people’s lives or livelihoods at risk, yet you chose to issue this letter,” Laydon said.
Laydon and fellow Commissioner George Teal both voted to immediately remove her from the chair position and begin an investigation into their allegations. Laydon became chair, and Teal became vice chair.
Laydon asserted that Thomas had directed a lawyer working for the county to record and take notes on who met with Laydon during a meeting in the San Luis Valley regarding the Renewable Water Resources proposal.
RWR has asked the county for $10 million to begin working on a plan to transport about 22,000 acre-feet of water per year from southern Colorado's San Luis Valley to Douglas County. Many in the valley and around the region have spoken out against the plan, including U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, Rep. Cleave Simpson, Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.
While Thomas is against the water plan and Commissioner George Teal is in support, Laydon has not yet announced how he will vote. He said he attended a meeting in the valley to privately hear from supporters of the plan. Laydon and Teal have voiced concern that these supporters don’t feel they can speak publicly because of fear of retribution.
“We made it very clear that we wanted to ensure the privacy of those individuals,” Laydon said.
Thomas defended her request for the information, saying she hasn’t released anything confidential in the past.
“For me to know who you talked to as a board member is absolutely appropriate,” she said.
Laydon said everything that happened would be included in a memo that he planned to make public when complete.
Laydon also suggested that Thomas had caused the recent “high level resignation” of a first responder in the county by distributing an anonymous letter received by the county that detailed concerns about employees of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“In my mind again you are trying to dox our employees, use information for your own political benefit,” Laydon said. “These are major concerns that I have.”
When asked directly if she distributed the anonymous letter at a county assembly, Thomas responded that the letter is a public document. She then said she was “not on trial” and wouldn’t answer.
Laydon then responded, “I answered your question,” to which Thomas said, “No you didn’t.”
The county's board chair serves as the public representative and leader of the board, according to the county’s policy for commissioners. They preside over meetings and decide agendas. Normally, the chair and vice chair are selected on a rotating basis based on district, according to the policy.
The board issued a statement later in the day repeating the allegations from the earlier meeting.
"Regrettably this is only the most recent example of Lora Thomas’ conduct whereby she has attempted to bully, harass, and intimidate those with whom she disagrees," according to the statement posted on the county website.
Thomas responsed in an emailed newsletter, saying that the other two commissioners had violated their earlier agreement by removing her as chair. She also disputed their allegations, calling them unsubstatiated and false and claiming that the move was a political stunt to support her opponents in the race for DougCo sheriff.
"Laydon and Teal still believe that they can bully me into silence with summary and arbitrary political stunts--by using the tyranny of the majority without any substantive proof or fair process to permit adequate response," she wrote.
Teal and Laydon also removed Thomas from the chair role one year earlier, during an April 19, 2021, work session. That conflict arose after The New York Times requested an interview with a commissioner and Thomas was not chosen to do so.
Thomas reacted to that decision by accusing Laydon and Teal of silencing her voice and emailing members of the business community for support.
The pair then accused Thomas of lying and abuse of power and planned to publicly censure her during a meeting. They ultimately decided not to do so and instead voted to share the chair position between Laydon and Thomas, alternating monthly.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the county and an emailed response from Lora Thomas.
Including a quick piece of audio I was able to grab so you have a sense of how this conversation sounded. You hear commissioners Abe Laydon and Lora Thomas here (please excuse typing sounds): pic.twitter.com/y7EWgoubDY— Elliott Wenzler (@ElliottWenzler) April 26, 2022
Including a quick piece of audio I was able to grab so you have a sense of how this conversation sounded. You hear commissioners Abe Laydon and Lora Thomas here (please excuse typing sounds): pic.twitter.com/y7EWgoubDY
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