An investigation by the Douglas County government’s attorney found that Commissioner Lora Thomas released a confidential memo to the media and that she could have broken the law by doing …
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An investigation by the Douglas County government’s attorney found that Commissioner Lora Thomas released a confidential memo to the media and that she could have broken the law by doing so.
Thomas’ fellow commissioners directed their staff to look into the possible breach after Thomas appeared in a CBS Colorado story discussing the report. Images and full quotes from the report were included in the TV story.
While the state doesn’t have specific laws for the situation, County Attorney Lance Ingalls said there are seven criminal offenses that could apply, including official misconduct, embezzlement of public property and abuse of public records, according to a county memo.
After voting to make the memo by the county attorney public in an Aug. 15 meeting, commissioners Abe Laydon and George Teal voted not to take any immediate action against Thomas.
“While we could pursue further actions, I know the public is concerned with one thing from this board, which is upstream governance and serving the county to the best of our abilities,” Laydon said.
Ingalls wrote in the “facts” section of the memo that Thomas had released the report and discussed the contents in a televised interview, “despite knowing the (board of county commissioners) intent to maintain the confidential and privileged nature of the report.”
Thomas didn’t respond to questions about the release of the report, according to the memo. She has asserted multiple times in meetings and in her newsletter to constituents that she believes the privileged nature of the document had already been broken by Laydon discussing parts of it publicly.
The report in question, a 12-page document, shows the full results of a $17,000 investigation into Thomas by outside legal counsel. Teal and Laydon initiated the probe after accusing Thomas of circulating an anonymous letter that criticized specific employees in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, creating a hostile work environment.
They also accused her of emailing county legal representation with a request not authorized by the full board.
The investigation found that while Thomas had distributed the sheriff letter, doing so did not create a hostile work environment. It also found she did direct legal representation to provide her with information the board had determined to keep secret.
Teal and Laydon initially voted to keep the investigative report confidential, but after it was shared with the Denver TV station, decided to release it.
Ingalls explained each possible criminal offense in the memo. The possible charges are: first degree official misconduct; second degree official misconduct; embezzlement of public property; abuse of public records; theft of trade secrets; second degree criminal tampering; and commercial bribery and breach of duty to act disinterestedly.
Embezzlement of public property and commercial bribery are both felonies.
Ingalls included in each summary the likelihood in which each charge could be argued. Several included caveats, suggesting some charges didn’t have strong evidence or would only apply depending on how a court defined certain terms.
The possible embezzlement charge and the two possible charges of misconduct didn’t include any caveats.
Ingalls said the board could take other actions against Thomas, including censure, removal from appointments and exclusion from confidential meetings.
In the Aug. 15 meeting where the memo was discussed, Teal made a motion to go into executive session without Thomas. Laydon spoke against the idea, saying he felt it was important for all of them to hear the information.
Teal also made a motion to dock Thomas’ pay by $17,000 — the cost of the investigative report. Again Laydon disagreed and said he believes the board should instead review their internal policies.
“Our public wearies of this board having dysfunction,” Laydon said. “Although I don’t disagree with Commissioner Teal’s perspective, I think we need to pause on all that today for the benefit of our public.”
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