Commissioners agree to new leadership structure

Chair position will rotate monthly

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/24/21

 

After a “very painful” process following a bout of public infighting, the Douglas County board of commissioners has unanimously agreed to a new leadership …

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Commissioners agree to new leadership structure

Chair position will rotate monthly

Posted
 
After a “very painful” process following a bout of public infighting, the Douglas County board of commissioners has unanimously agreed to a new leadership structure.
 
In the past, the board's chair position rotated on an annual basis based on district but now, Commissioners Abe Laydon and Lora Thomas will alternate serving in the position every month.
 
The decision comes after the board had four meetings with Bill Cadman, a former state legislator who served as president of the State Senate. Cadman volunteered to help mediate the tense situation among commissioners.
 
“The last 10 weeks have been very painful,” Thomas said.
 
Beginning with Laydon as chair in July, the two will swap between that position and vice chair every month, beginning on the first Thursday, until January 2023, according to a county spokesperson.
 
The board's chair serves as the public representative and leader of the board, according to the county's policy for commissioners. The chair presides over meetings and decide agendas.
 
“We worked through a lot of things, some personal, most professional,” said Commissioner George Teal, the third member of the board, about the mediation meetings.
 
This agreement will expire in January 2023, after the 2022 election for Laydon's seat. Regardless of if there is a new board member or if Laydon is re-elected, the board will revisit this agreement then.
 
“We recognize the importance of governing productively with excellence. This leadership structure reflects our agreement to work together in the public interest for those we serve. There is much to do, and we believe this is the best solution to help us move forward,” according to a statement from the board.
 

Background

 
In April, Thomas, who had been serving as board chair since January, was stripped of that title after Laydon and Teal said she lied and abused her position following a disagreement with the two of them.
 
At the time, Thomas responded to her removal as chair with a post on her personal website, saying the other two commissioners were “attempting to silence” her. Months after the allegations, Thomas says she never saw any evidence of them.
 
“For myself and the public, I wanted them to know that there's been no evidence that I did any heinous crime or anything that rose to the level of a censure," she said in a June 23 interview.
 
The controversy originated with a request from the New York Times for an interview with a county commissioner. While Teal and Laydon agreed that they wanted Laydon to speak with the reporter, Thomas disagreed and said the two were violating their internal media policy, which would have made it her turn to speak with the reporter. Thomas took this complaint public and emailed at least one member of the business community about the issue.
 
In a resolution they planned to approve the following week, Teal and Laydon wrote that Thomas had deliberately lied to members of the public and businesses about the media policy, claiming it was an attempt to influence the board.
 
“Some of those emails were received by businesses with active land-use applications before the board and were interpreted to be intimidation to compel those applicants to influence the board,” according to the resolution.
 
Thomas later said she didn't lie but was mistaken in her discussions about the internal media policy.
 
The resolution would have formally removed Thomas from the board chair position and publicly censured her. 
 
However, the day of the board meeting, April 27, commissioners met in an earlier work session and decided not to approve that resolution. Instead, the commissioners said they would try to work out their disagreements.
 
The board had several meetings previous to the mediation meetings where they attempted to do so. In those, commissioners repeated accusations against each other related to this incident and earlier disagreements.
 

Mediation meetings

 
In their meetings with Cadman, commissioners talked about their personal, professional and ideological issues with each other, Teal said.
 
“What I think really happened is we put our heads together and came up with a plan that allows us to get back to work for the people of Douglas County,” he said. “I think we really came together as a team.”
 
While the meetings began contentiously, they became less so over time, he said.
 
"There was some understanding," Thomas said. "I'm not sure we completely agreed on all issues."
 
The public meetings were listed as “Administrative Discussion” on the board's weekly schedule. That schedule, which lists meetings among commissioners — all of which are public — is available at douglas.co.us/commissioners-weekly-schedule.
 
The new monthly rotation plan became an option after Teal said he wouldn't agree to Thomas returning as sole chair, Teal and Thomas said.
 
Then, Teal, who was elected in November 2020, offered to remove himself from the chair rotation, according to the county spokesperson.
 
“It's not a title I need right now,” Teal said. 
 
Teal said that while there could have “easily” been a two-to-one decision, Laydon insisted on a unanimous decision and that's how the board came to this agreement.
 
“We engaged in direct discussions about challenges and shared our perspectives about those challenges,” Laydon said. “We have different points of view about those challenges but agreed that direct, timely communications with one another is productive.”
 
Thomas said that during the meetings she brought up her desire to see herself vindicated following the accusations that were made about her in the other commissioners' earlier resolution.
 
“The most frightening thing through all of this is that the public would think that my integrity is tarnished,” Thomas said. “I have never spoken a false statement, I have never lied … I speak the truth unvarnished and I am not corrupt.”
 
When asked about Thomas' comments on vindication and evidence for earlier allegations, Laydon repeated that "we have very different perspectives about those challenges."
 
"However, I am pleased that we have made strides to address them as the public expects," he said. "Professionally and internally as a board."

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