Thornton City Council meeting escalates situation surrounding city attorney's dismissal

Former City Attorney Luis Corchado speaks publicly after his firing, denouncing ”bully block of five”

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/27/21

A Jan. 26 Thornton City Council meeting marked by 10 public comments, calls for municipal secession and new details about former City Attorney Luis Corchado’s dismissal escalated a situation that …

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Thornton City Council meeting escalates situation surrounding city attorney's dismissal

Former City Attorney Luis Corchado speaks publicly after his firing, denouncing ”bully block of five”

Posted

A Jan. 26 Thornton City Council meeting marked by 10 public comments, calls for municipal secession and new details about former City Attorney Luis Corchado’s dismissal escalated a situation that only consumed 14 minutes of the previous week’s meeting.

Thornton City Council voted 5 to 4 to fire Corchado during a special meeting Jan. 19. The four councilors who dissented claimed they weren’t privy to the same information the other five were, setting the stage for what occurred at the Jan. 26 meeting. Most public comments on Jan. 26 were of residents expressing concern about transparency. However, the tone shifted when Corchado himself called in.

“After four years of fighting for Thornton, the bully block of five council members orchestrated a surprise attack to terminate my contract,” the former city attorney said. Corchado said that despite “outstanding” performance reviews and compliments he has received from city employees, the five councilors unjustly fired him.

He was referring to Mayor Jan Kulmann, Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren and Councilors David Acunto, Adam Matkowsky and Angie Bedolla. The four councilors who voted against Corchado’s firing were Councilors Jacque Phillips, Sam Nizam, Julia Marvin and Sherry Goodman.

Councilors shared little information about the situation at the Jan. 19 meeting. Nizam alluded to allegations he heard about “a toxic work environment, some of a sexual nature.” Little else was said then.

At the Jan. 26 meeting, though, Corchado shot back. “I can tell you that I committed no crime, engaged in no inappropriate relations in the office or the city,” the former city attorney said.

Later, Kulmann would directly respond to those specific statements. The mayor said council received “clear legal advice that, based on information received from nine employees, we had an obligation to act on behalf of those employees.”

Also, the Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel filed an open records request with the city of Thornton for formal complaints filed against Corchado. The city said in response, “Pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-72-204(2)(X) any responsive records, if they exist, of which City staff would be aware are not subject to public inspection.” The statute the city cited allows a records custodian to deny inspection of “sexual harassment complaints and investigations.”  In a separate phone interview, Nizam said Kulmann told him about the existence of formal complaints employees filed against Corchado. Still, details about any alleged wrongdoing by Corchado remains unknown.

Former Councilman Eric Montoya called in at the Jan. 26 meeting with his own take.  The reasons are, “either a, retaliation or b, because of the color of his skin,” he said. Montoya also said he is aware of previous attempts by some of the same councilors to remove Corchado.  

Acunto took personal offense to Montoya’s comments. “I would hope he has some sort of evidence or objective truth to back that up. I take my integrity very seriously and he implied that my decision was based on the color of somebody’s skin, which I find unacceptable and abhorrent,” the councilman responded.

Other residents didn’t dismiss allegations about Corchado, but said council also did wrong. “You have opened our city up to all sorts of liabilities,” said Suzie B (who didn’t provide a last name), citing the absence of a formal investigation or unified council approach. “Let me clear, I know a lot of us believe women. I believe women. I support women… But what you did last week set us back,” Suzie B added.

Regardless of what anyone said about Corchado, the former city attorney indicated his defense will go undeterred. “My statement is not a waiver of any of my rights or privileges. And my silence should not be misunderstood,” Corchado said at the meeting. “I am collecting information. I have faced bullies all my life. Thornton residents, you have a problem on your hands, and it is the bully block of five.”

His portrayal of the “bully block of five” mirrored grievances other residents had about the five versus four split. To some, it represents a geographical division in town and specifically, negligence of the south side. Three of the four councilors who voted against Corchado’s termination represent wards in south Thornton.

Claims that the five knew more than the four about Corchado demonstrates that the north side is subduing the south side’s voice, residents claimed.  “Somehow, in Ward 1, we just constantly get ignored. And everybody is like, ‘We hear you, we hear you.’ But you don’t,” said resident Tracy Crespin.

Phillips, who represents Ward 1, endorsed her constituents’ message. “I understand why many citizens in the south end want to split into two separate cities instead of the one Thornton that we all supported. Ward 1 wants a seat at this table. We want to be included when information is given to other council members,” Phillips said.

Kulmann also disputed that claim and said all of council had the same information at the same time. The mayor said she personally reached out to each council member and connected them with an attorney representing the city’s employee insurance company. The mayor stood her ground. “No information was left out,” she said.

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