Report: Complaint against Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway sent to news outlets by Conway
March 25, 2017
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, in a possible "self-serving" effort to discredit his fellow commissioners, leaked a complaint against himself to two media outlets, according to a Mountain States Employers Council investigation.
The investigative report, posted as part of the Board of Weld County Commissioners' Monday agenda packet, centers on whether Conway released a complaint filed by an employee after a Nov. 23, 2016, incident and whether Conway did it as an act of retaliation against the employee who filed the complaint.
Although the investigator, Lori Karl, did not determine the release of the complaint was an act of retaliation, she did conclude "more likely than not" that Conway had released the initial complaint to Complete Colorado, a Denver-based online news organization, and The Greeley Tribune.
"Commissioner Conway may have been motivated to leak (the employee's) complaint to the media so he could claim, as stated in the Complete Colorado article, that (the employee's) complaint was 'filed at the request of the commissioners' who have 'proved determined to retaliate against him' for allegedly exposing things that 'are not only unethical, but borderline illegal,' " Karl said in the report.
“He’s been doing things that seem irrational and I can’t explain. Commissioner Conway has some motive. He may want to harm the other commissioners to elevate himself in the eyes of the public.” Don WardenWeld County Finance Director
The complaint Conway is said to have released alleged he yelled and cursed at the employee during a phone call, and it was one of several complaints detailed in a separate, 150-plus-page investigative report also compiled by Mountain States Employers Council.
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The Tribune eventually obtained that report, and more, after a Weld District Court judge found the previous Mountain States investigation to be a matter of public record following a Tribune open records request.
But the initial complaint from the Nov. 23, 2016, incident was provided to Complete Colorado and later sent to The Tribune via an anonymous letter long before the judge's ruling.
The investigator said there's little doubt Conway leaked the complaint to Complete Colorado, citing a Facebook post from Complete Colorado reporter and former Tribune reporter Sherrie Peif.
Indeed, Conway told The Tribune on Monday he sent "redacted portions of the report" to Complete Colorado.
But Conway "categorically denies" he sent the complaint to The Tribune.
"That is the most ludicrous thing that could be alleged in this whole thing," Conway said. "Why would I send the complaint to The Greeley Tribune? There was no benefit to me."
Conway also sent a statement Monday afternoon regarding the investigative report. In the statement, Conway takes issue with the investigator's findings and again brings up the prospect of other commissioners retaliating against him.
The day The Tribune story on the complaint was published, Conway called Weld County Human Resources Director Patti Russell and Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker, expressing concern the complaint was sent to The Tribune, according to the report.
In a phone interview, Conway pointed to those calls as further proof he didn't leak the documents.
But the investigator, citing Conway's September release of emails related to Xcel meetings with commissioners and others to Complete Colorado, suggested it was a pattern.
"His actions appear to demonstrate a self-serving pattern," the investigator concluded.
Neither Conway nor Peif agreed to meet with the investigator regarding the release of the complaint, with Conway declining through his attorney, Jill Gookin. The investigator did not contact The Tribune.
Conway said he is not accusing other commissioners of sending the complaint to The Tribune, but there is a widespread whisper campaign to that end. He accused Tribune bosses of knowing who gave The Tribune the complaint. Tribune Editor Randy Bangert said that's not true.
"We have absolutely no idea who sent it to us," Bangert said. "The sender took great care to make sure it was anonymous. No one to this day has owned up to it, and we haven't spent a lot of time or energy trying to find out."
The employee who filed the complaint alleges Conway released her initial complaint, but she didn't know why.
"I don't know why Commissioner Conway would share it with the press because it's a word-for-word account of his harassment," the employee said, according to the report.
Other commissioners interviewed as part of the investigation had their own ideas about Conway's motive.
"The only person who gained from leaking the complaint to the media was Commissioner Conway because it made him look like a victim," Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said.
In addition to Peif's Facebook post, and a line in the Dec. 22, 2016, article connecting the document to Conway, Weld County commissioners had the county's IT department look into Conway's emails. Staff found Conway had sent the emails in question, including the employee's complaint, to his private email address before sending the documents to Complete Colorado.
There is no such paper trail proving Conway sent the complaint to The Tribune, and The Tribune refused to hand over its copy of the complaint or the envelope when commissioners asked.
When asked why he would release the complaint to Complete Colorado but not The Tribune, Conway said the Complete Colorado story was about retaliation by other commissioners against him.
"The benefit was to talk about the retaliation that was taken against me," Conway said. "I think it established a pattern of retaliation toward me."
Commissioner Steve Moreno told the investigator Conway's release of the report fit with what he's heard about Conway, who previously served as press secretary for a U.S. senator.
"I've heard others refer to him as the 'Spin Master' with the media," Moreno said.
The investigator interviewed seven people between Feb. 3 and March 13, not including Conway. Each of them say they think or they've heard Conway released the report.
When asked what the odds are everybody is lying except him, Conway was adamant.
"One-hundred percent," Conway said. "Because I have no reason to lie to you."
This investigation is the latest development in a more than yearlong tussle between Conway and his fellow commissioners. Other commissioners have said Conway started the flap by coming to his niece's defense when people complained about wait times and work environment at the Weld County Clerk and Recorder's Office.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes is Conway's niece by marriage, and Conway once presented information in defense of Koppes during a county council meeting, saying he was there on behalf of the other commissioners.
The other commissioners have said Conway wasn't speaking for them.
Weld County Finance Director Don Warden also tied the commissioner battle to Koppes and said he asked Conway about his motivations after Conway made seemingly negative statements related to the county's spending on a training exercise in Breckenridge.
"He's been doing things that seem irrational and I can't explain," Warden said. "Commissioner Conway has some motive. He may want to harm the other commissioners to elevate himself in the eyes of the public."
Chairwoman of the Board of Weld County Commissioners Julie Cozad couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but she and other commissioners in the report echoed Warden.
"I think (Conway is) grasping at straws to try to make it look like the problem is with the other commissioners instead of with him," Cozad said. "I think it's a deflection."