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Monument police chief back at work; town manager remains suspended

February 21, 2018 Updated: February 22, 2018 at 6:20 am
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Left: Town Manager Chris Lowe Right: Chief of Police Jacob Shirk (via KKTV)

Monument's police chief is back at work but the town manager remains on suspension amid allegations of misconduct, including sexual harassment.

Police Chief Jacob Shirk, who returned to work Tuesday, said Town Manager Chris Lowe placed him paid administrative leave on Feb. 5 - just days after Lowe penned a scathing performance review about the chief, records show.

In a Wednesday interview, Shirk called the evaluation and suspension "retaliation" for a confidential memo he filed with town trustees complaining about Lowe. But records obtained by The Gazette suggest that the performance review came before Shirk submitted his complaint, which is dated Feb. 1.

The chain of events culminated on the evening of Feb. 5, when the town's board of trustees unanimously voted to put both Shirk and Lowe on administrative leave - though Shirk had already been put on leave earlier that day - for two weeks.

Following an executive session at a special meeting last week, the board opted to extend Lowe's suspension indefinitely pending the results of an investigation, which is being independently conducted by the town's insurer, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, Monument Mayor Jeffrey Kaiser said.

Lowe did not respond to a phone call requesting comment.

The Gazette tried unsuccessfully to obtain Shirk's complaint through a Colorado Open Records Act request, but one of the exemptions that the town cited in its denial shed light on at least some of the complaint's contents. In a letter replying to The Gazette's request, Town Clerk Laura Hogan referenced a statute that keeps sexual harassment complaints private.

She cited another statutory exemption, saying that "disclosure of the memorandum would substantially harm the public interest by unduly interfering with the privacy rights and liberty interests of the Town's employees and due to the ongoing nature of the investigation."

Referencing the same statutes, the town also declined to release to The Gazette another complaint filed by a Monument police sergeant against the town manager this month.

Shirk said he's been ordered to not talk about the investigation, and Kaiser and other town officials have declined to comment on the nature of the allegations against Lowe, citing the pending investigation and confidential personnel issues.

Shirk's performance review, obtained by The Gazette through an open records request, describes an acrimonious working relationship. Lowe writes that Shirk "looks for opportunities to put his department and employees against the town manager and the rest of the town staff" and "only reports his activities to the town manager if other employees catch that he has done so."

In many job performance categories, Lowe marked Shirk "unsatisfactory." Under the chief, the department's evidence room has been mismanaged, sex offenders have not been registered correctly and data has been fabricated, Lowe wrote.

"No training will fix the character and deception that is at the root of his ineffectiveness and insubordinate behaviors," Lowe wrote.

Shirk told The Gazette on Wednesday that he had not yet thoroughly reviewed the assessment but planned to write a rebuttal, which he is entitled to do under the town's policy. He said before the performance review the town manager had never indicated his job performance wasn't satisfactory.

"If someone's unacceptable, there should be counseling, there should be documentation, there should be no surprises," he said. "None of that occurred."

The document is signed and dated Jan. 31 by both Lowe and Shirk, but Shirk said repeatedly in the interview that he signed the document on Feb. 2. Shirk noted on the signature page that he was "not able to review" the document before signing it and there was "no discussion."

On the morning of Feb. 5, Shirk emailed Lowe asking if they could reschedule a meeting they had planned for that day, and Lowe refused, according to a string of emails obtained by The Gazette through another records request.

"No, see you at 11:30," Lowe wrote. "Also, if its true that you sent a memo to the board without my knowledge, we'll need to discuss that too. Please bring a copy with you."

Shirk told The Gazette that Lowe then put him administrative leave for a week. The chief said he was given a letter with reasons for his suspension, but declined to say what those reasons were.

At the Board of Trustees meeting that night, several board members indicated they were not aware the Shirk had been suspended.

An attorney, who said he represented the chief and several other department staff members, told trustees at the meeting that the employees are "fearful of retaliation" from Lowe.

"They're concerned about some of the comments and actions that have been taken by the city manager, and they're not able to do their job," Colorado Springs attorney Erin Jensen, who specializes in employment law, said during the meeting's public comment period.

Other members of the community spoke highly of the chief's leadership at the meeting.

Both employees received raises at the end of last year. Lowe is paid about $121,000 annually. Shirk's salary is about $101,000.

Shirk, whose department now has 14 sworn officers, has been police chief for 13 years.

The board appointed Lowe to the town manager position in August 2015. His duties include supervising the town's employees, overseeing day-to-day government operations and preparing the annual budget.

Town Treasurer Pamela Smith has been appointed as the interim town administrator.

In an interview on Wednesday, Kaiser declined to provide further details on the situation or comment on whether either Shirk or Lowe had before expressed concerns about the other.

"It's always unfortunate when there's change and things that appear to be improper, whether that's from the board or anywhere," he said. "Monument generally does not suffer from these types of events, but human nature is what it is, and we will deal with things appropriately."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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