After written Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests, the City of Delta has disclosed Robert Thomas received a $50,000 severance payment upon his retirement as police chief.
The city initially refused to disclose that information, citing "personnel" issues, but city attorney David McConaughy agreed the payment is public information. Thomas was paid an additional $19,031.52, the remaining balance of accrued paid time off to which he was entitled under law.
Thomas was placed on paid administrative leave in late August. Because there was indication of an internal investigation, but not a criminal inquiry, the Delta County Independent also requested "any information in Robert Thomas's personnel file related to complaints of any kind, including harassment, discrimination or retaliation in the last 12 months."
The city responded there are no such documents in Thomas's personnel file.
A copy of Thomas's "formal retirement letter" was also requested. In a letter dated Sept. 21, Thomas stated, "My retirement is effective Sept. 12, 2015." His decision was not announced until nearly two weeks later, in a brief press release issued by city manager Glen Black on Sept. 28. No reference was made to any investigation.
A request for any settlement/separation agreement was the subject of a Delta District Court hearing Tuesday afternoon.
While no "agreement" with Thomas was executed by any city official, the city acknowledges Thomas did sign a "release."
"This document is in the custody of city attorney David McConaughy but has been submitted to the Delta County District Court with a request for the court to determine whether it should be properly disclosed," city clerk Jolene Nelson responded in a letter to the DCI. As city clerk, Nelson is the official records custodian for the City of Delta.
In a petition to the court, McConaughy noted, "The release includes language that certain records concerning Mr. Thomas cannot be disclosed without his permission or without a court order of disclosure under CORA. However, it is ambiguous whether the release itself can or should be disclosed. Mr. Thomas has not consented to the disclosure of the release and, through counsel, has asserted that the document should remain confidential because its release would not be in the public interest."
McConaughy attached as an exhibit a letter from Michael Grattan III, Thomas's attorney. "While recognizing the important policies behind the Colorado Open Records Act, Mr. Thomas believes that disclosure of any information (other than his payment record) relating to his departure from employment by the City of Delta is inappropriate 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."
McConaughy concludes his petition to the court: "The city requests that the court review the tendered release in camera (in private) and determine whether or not it can, in its entirety or with redactions, be disclosed in accordance with the CORA or whether disclosure of the release would do substantial injury to the public interest and thus disclosure should be prohibited."
Judge Steven Schultz delivered his opinion on the matter after the DCI went to press Tuesday. Updates will be posted to the DCI's Facebook page.