An investigation into Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas found that while she did do some of the things of which she was accused, she didn’t create a hostile work environment or open the county up to legal liability.
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The report shows answers to 11 allegations asked by Thomas’ fellow commissioners — George Teal and Abe Laydon.
They both have said the results confirm their belief that Thomas should not serve as the board’s chair but Thomas said she believes the report exonerates her.
“The full sum-and-substance of the report confirms not a single illegal action was committed by me nor did I place the county in any peril of legal liability as constantly alleged by Laydon and Teal for the past several months,” Thomas wrote in an email to her supporters Wednesday.
Laydon and Teal asked for an investigation into Thomas in April after they said she went against their direction and asked their legal counsel for information about supporters of a controversial water proposal from the San Luis Valley. The proposal, from Renewable Water Resources, had strong opposition in the southern Colorado community and Laydon said he wanted to protect the names of those supporting it.
They also accused Thomas of creating a hostile work environment and causing the 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.
The outside legal counsel hired to conduct the investigation, Elizabeth Chilcoat, found that “multiple county employees expressed fears about retaliation for participating in this investigation,” according to the report.
“County employees expressed concern that one or more commissioners would intentionally make continued employment with the county unpleasant or untenable for county employees who participated in this investigation,” according to the report.
Teal and Laydon initially said they would not release the report but decided to do so after it was leaked to a Denver TV station. The released report redacted the names of county employees mentioned in the results.
Throughout her investigation, rather than use the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt,” for the allegations, Chilcoat used a “preponderance of the evidence” approach, which means she sought to determine only if 50.01% evidence pointed to a specific finding. As a result, she often describes her conclusions as “more likely than not” to be true throughout the report.
For the question of whether or not Thomas wrote an anonymous letter with complaints about the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Chilcoat found that she did not receive “sufficient evidence” to determine if Thomas was or was not the author.
She said the letter appeared to have been written by an insider or employee of the sheriff’s office but that it’s not unreasonable to believe Thomas could have used her law enforcement connections to collect the information.
The report says that Thomas did distribute the letter on her website and at the county’s 2022 Republican Assembly and did so to support her campaign for sheriff.
“I find it more likely than not that Commissioner Thomas did not engage in conduct that would give rise to legal liability,” according to the report.
Chilcoat also determined that Thomas’ distribution of the letter didn’t have a negative impact on county employees or first responders.
“There is no evidence that morale among employees of the sheriff’s office was actually harmed, that the reputation of the sheriff’s office was actually undercut or that any county employee resigned from employment,” according to the report.
The report also states that Thomas didn’t create a hostile work environment for county employees and that the majority of complaints about her were regarding “Thomas’ treatment of elected officials and independent contractors.”
The report also found that during conversations about the Renewable Water Resources proposal, Thomas did email a county legal representative with a request going against the full board’s direction.
Laydon and Teal also recently asked their staff to look into whether Thomas leaked the report to a Denver TV station after they had decided to keep it confidential. Tuesday they said it “likely occurred” and discussed possible punishments for Thomas including removal from all county boards and sending a letter describing the incident to all the boards and commissions the county is “involved with.”
“It is unfortunate that Lora Thomas continues to cost the county time and money with her egregious behavior,” according to a statement from Laydon. “We recognize the public expects upstream governance, respect, and professionalism and we endeavor to return to that.”
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