Douglas County commissioners ease tensions, decide not to censure the only woman on the board

The Douglas County commissioners took the edge off of their contentious dispute Tuesday, deciding at the 11th hour to shelve a plan to censure one of their own for “conduct unbecoming” and agreeing instead to share the position of chair for the next 30 days.

The resolution, passed unanimously, puts to rest for now a fight that had broken out between commissioners Abe Laydon and George Teal on one side and Commissioner Lora Thomas on the other.

Laydon and Teal voted to strip Thomas of her chairmanship during a tense April 19 meeting, which set off a war of words and accusations in this conservative county south of Denver.

In a different resolution that was tabled hours before Tuesday’s business meeting, Teal and Laydon had accused Thomas of disseminating “misinformation and untruths” for “personal gain politically,” and of using “extremely divisive” rhetoric that “created distrust for the public who elected her.”

That resolution had also called for censuring Thomas, who her colleagues said “brought a sad day upon the people of Douglas County.” The resolution provided few details about Thomas’ alleged violations.

In an interview with The Denver Post on Tuesday morning, Thomas said demoting her from chairwoman amounted to “intimidation” and an attempt to “get me to come into line with them.” The chair oversees the agenda and administers the meetings.

She said the tension began a few months ago — not long after Teal was voted in as commissioner — when she found herself on the losing side of several 2-1 votes. She said her philosophy has been to push back on county government’s spending, something she felt her colleagues were not sufficiently doing.

“I come to work every day with two feet on the brake pedal to stop growing government,” she said.

Over the weekend, Thomas refused to sign an apology letter that had been drafted by Teal and Laydon.

“I don’t work for Abe or George, and I don’t back down from bullies,” Thomas wrote at the bottom of the letter, which she posted in a tweet.

But on Tuesday, in a letter accompanying the new resolution, the three commissioners agreed to share the chair position “in a good faith attempt to resolve our difficulties through the appropriate internal channels.”

“Our citizens do not care about what we are in conflict over,” the letter states. “They simply want peace, calm and a government that works.”

Tuesday’s meeting occurred in front of a full house in Castle Rock and nearly all of those who addressed the board defended Thomas. One resident called the whole ordeal “a Dumpster fire,” and others said the dispute would only divide Republicans and feed into Democrats’ hands.

Just before the vote, Laydon addressed the room after having to call for order.

“There are times when it’s important for the board to work through petty differences — and significant differences — and serious concerns in a way that honors you and reflects you best,” said Laydon, who took over as chairman after Thomas was demoted. “I want you to continue to hold us accountable, keep engaged and we hope to see you back as we continue to work together over the next 30 days, as we hope we have better news in store.”

Teal told residents: “This is your board, this is your county,” adding, “we work for you.”

Thomas will regain the chair post for one week starting Thursday as part of the new “equal co-chairs” arrangement. Her stint as chair will be followed by Teal and then Laydon.

Thomas is a retired major with the Colorado State Patrol and a former Douglas County coroner. She was first elected to the board of commissioners in 2016 and re-elected last year.

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