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Police chief allowed to retire 'on a positive note'

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A release signed by Robert Thomas, former chief of police for the City of Delta, has been disclosed by order of Judge Steven Schultz. The document was the subject of a court hearing last week after a Colorado Open Records Act request was filed by the DCI and other media.

The release reveals a little more information about why Thomas was placed on paid administrative leave a month prior to announcing his retirement.

At that time, Mayor Ed Sisson alluded to an investigation into Thomas's conduct. The release refers to complaints investigated by Heather Coogan, who was identified in court as a "third party contractor" for city attorney David McConaughy.

An Internet search reveals Coogan is a retired police chief who now owns a firm that specializes in workplace investigations. Because she was retained by the city attorney, "the limited information provided by Heather Coogan about alleged wrongdoing by Thomas" is protected by attorney/client privilege.

The release states those records are "separate from any involving complaints of others for which an investigation may proceed (such investigations shall not have Thomas as the primary subject), including involving complaints related to allegedly unfair discipline where the discipline may be analyzed as necessary."

The DCI specifically asked for information contained within Thomas's personnel file related to complaints of any type in the last 12 months, and was told there were no such documents in Thomas's file.

There is also reference to "alleged, but not substantiated, allegations of CCIC violations."

In this context, CCIC apparently refers to the Colorado Crime Information Center, a computerized information system that contains crime/arrest records, driver license/vehicle information and a broad range of other data, all intended to be used solely in a professional capacity.

Thomas did not return a phone call from the DCI, and his attorney did not appear at the court hearing, although he did file a letter objecting to disclosure of the release "because such disclosure would have a chilling effect on resolution of employee and employment matters. It is Mr. Thomas's position that the public interest is best served by quick and confidental resolution of such matters."

The judge disagreed. Maintaining confidentiality of a settlement agreement "may provide some indirect benefit to the public by encouraging the prompt and efficient resolution of future disputes by public entities," he noted in his written decision. "That consideration, however, is far outweighed by the public's direct and paramount interest in the disclosure of the underlying public records, which is necessary to allow the public

to evaluate for itself whether the resolution of the dispute and the concomitant expenditure of funds was reasonable and appropriate."

The city attorney previously disclosed a severance payment of $50,000 plus payment for accrued but unused leave, per city policy. Thomas's last day on the job was Sept. 12. The release contains the wording the city and Thomas agreed to use to announce his retirement -- and both stuck faithfully to the script in press releases issued on Sept. 28 and 29.

"As with many such employment-related agreements ... the release provided that each party would respond to any inquiries regarding Chief Thomas's departure with specific language. That specificity extends to verbal inquiries from prospective employers. The city is to only "verify that he was employed by the city, the dates of employment, the highest rank attained by the employee, and salary information."

In return, the city agreed not to proceed with investigating the complaints it has received "which relate solely to Thomas."

In summary: "The parties acknowledge that neither side admits wrongdoing and that this release was agreed to so that Thomas could retire on a positive note."

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