Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: The Boulder Police Department’s new master plan is not meant to be a traditional master plan; it is an attempt to re-envision policing in the city. Your take?
I’m the race director of the Rattlesnake Ramble (Sept. 17th — sign up now!) and in order to get insurance for my race through the USATF, I had to take a 3-hour Safe Sport Compliance program covering bullying extensively, among other things. Mike Willis, the twice-suspended director of Colorado’s Office of Emergency Management seems to be a classic bully. Willis’ methods of yelling, throwing objects, intimidation and public shaming ticked every characteristic discussed in my training course. I’m sure state employees take similar training. Maybe Willis slept through it.
Willis sounded eminently reasonable when applying for his current position, but most of us know instinctively how to answer “Will you treat employees with respect? Will you foster a positive work environment? Will you panic and throw a tantrum at the first signs of displeasure?” What should have happened, especially for such a position, was extensive interviews with previous subordinates. It’s unlikely Willis’ behavior sprouted out of the blue in his new role.
Willis wrote, in explanation of his egregious actions, “I have to instill a sense of urgency into situations that require rapid, meaningful action.” It’s disturbing that he thinks his behavior encourages “rapid, meaningful action.” He’s been in this role for five years and still thinks that panicking is the right solution to a crisis? I’d expect to see Chicken Little at the top of his list of role models.
All this is no reason for governor Polis to get involved. Polis can’t manage every bad apple in state government. Colorado employs nearly a hundred thousand people. Kevin Klein, the head of Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is Willis’ boss. And Stan Hilkey, who runs Colorado’s Department of Public Safety, is Klein’s boss. Polis can’t be undermining the people that he put in place. Though it might be reasonable for Polis to ask Klein how many suspensions it takes before an employee is fired.
The Denver Post articles surrounding Willis read more like pretend investigative reporters playing at Woodward and Bernstein. A state employee three levels of management removed from the governor should not be Polis’ issue to solve. It’s Klein’s and it’s Hilkey’s problem. But they don’t hand out Pulitzers for bringing down mid-level employees that occasionally blow their top.
Bill Wright, firstname.lastname@example.org
As the most senior officer in Colorado’s government, the Governor should set a tone at the top that creates a safe environment for employees to raise concerns, supports a fair process for resolving complaints, discourages bad behavior, and ultimately gives employees and the public confidence that the State of Colorado is a desirable place to work. Unless there are highly unique or exigent circumstances, the Governor should demonstrate confidence in the investigative and personnel process and those carrying it out. He appears to be doing just that.
My day job involves conducting and defending investigations concerning potential corporate fraud. Documents and emails can be read in multiple ways, and recollections, perspectives and perceptions often are contradictory. Ultimately, an impartial factfinder may be required to make credibility determinations. When conclusions are reached before hearing all sides and considering all facts, mistakes are more likely to be made. Under such circumstances, people also lose confidence in the process. That is the case whether the investigation concerns corporate fraud, personnel issues or other disputes.
For people to trust the system as fair, the investigative process must be impartial and thorough. With respect to impartiality, even appearances of potential conflicts or prejudgment should be avoided when possible. The investigator needs to be afforded time to conduct a thorough inquiry, including interviewing significant witnesses and reviewing documents. Confidentiality during an investigation also is desirable for the subjects and witnesses. An investigator’s work is more difficult when witnesses are able to compare stories, either in private meetings or through accounts reported in the press. Publicity also can adversely affect cooperation. And, of course, in a perfect world, it typically is preferable that an impartial investigation be completed and results obtained before a determination is made on whether to make the accusations and findings public.
Given lower salaries and the public nature of working for a government agency, it can be difficult for the government to attract good workers. Concern that a politician may throw an employee under the bus, prejudge a situation, or circumvent established processes prior to the conclusion of a fair investigation, all in the name of political expediency, doesn’t help in recruitment or in building morale and confidence in a team. Should the Governor talk about the importance of a fair, impartial, and thorough process? Yes. But should he speak to the specific facts before that process is complete? No.
Andrew Shoemaker, Ashoemaker@sgslitigation.com