For the second time in 12 months, the Custer County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is facing a First Amendment lawsuit. This time, however, the lawsuit comes with additional claims of discrimination and retaliation. The lawsuit was filed on December 6, 2023, in Federal Court by former Planning and Zoning Director Jacquelyn Hobby.
The named defendants are the BOCC, plus BOCC Commissioners Bill Canda, Kevin Day, and former Commissioner Tom Flower. Also named is former Finance Director and Human Resources Manager Braden Wilson.
Hobby’s complaint centers on claims that former Commissioner Flower had harassed and bullied her because she was a woman back in May or June of 2021, and it eventually forced her to resign from her job in 2022. She further claims that these attacks escalated through December of 2021, but Wilson and the other Commissioners did nothing, and she spoke up in a BOCC meeting on December 7, 2021. Furthermore, she claims that in June 2019, Flower pulled her aside and said she was a “little f***er,” with Commissioner Bill Canda as the only witness. After the December 7, 2021 meeting, Commissioners Bill Canda and Kevin Day voted to punish Flower, stripping him of his duties as Commissioner and forcing him into remedial courses that were completed in February 2022.
According to Hobby’s complaint, Flower’s punishment was not enough to stop the harassment, and she claims that it escalated to the point that she announced her future retirement on May 9, 2022. After an incident in June, the commissioners voted unanimously to suspend Hobby with pay on June 17, 2022, until her official end of employment on August 22, 2022. The details of the incident in question were discussed in the executive session and are not open to the public.
So far, the defendants have not filed a response. The first scheduled deadline for the parties ordered by the Federal Court Magistrate Maritza Dominguez Braswell is January 31, 2023. Braswell was the magistrate judge who oversaw the Tribune’s First Amendment lawsuit against the BOCC in December 2022.
The Tribune has been following the events of Hobby’s claims of discrimination since her first public accusations against Flower surfaced in December 2021. Hobby’s complaint leaves out some of the facts surrounding the issue. While in the complaint, Hobby claims she resigned because of Flower’s harassment only. The Tribune covered a November 29, 2021, Planning Commission hearing where Hobby resigned unexpectedly in the middle of a meeting due to an interaction with
former Planning Commission Chairman Vic Barnes. Hobby, as Zoning Director, set up and reviewed applications for short-term rental permits. During the meeting, Chairman Barns said that an application presented to him was unacceptable because it was too dark to read. After more discussion, Hobby stood up, leaving the room, and stated that all the Planning Commission did was complain and that they should consider this her two weeks’ notice that she quit.
It was during the December 7, 2021, meeting that she claimed the real reason she had resigned was because she felt Flower was harassing her about her work. She stated to the crowd gathered at the meeting, “You may have heard a rumor that I’ve quit and it’s true, I am going to tell you the history of what led to that moment [at the November 29 PC meet- ing].” Flower publicly apologized to Hobby and asked her not to resign. “Jackie, I apologize to you. We’ve been friends for a long time and if I have destroyed that friendship, that’s on me, I am truly sorry. When I became a commissioner, I spent a long time in your office…sometimes I probably wasn’t very professional. I am sorry and I can’t take that back. I can assure you that that language will never occur again. I’m not really sure what else to say…sometimes sorry is not enough and I understand that – I would like to know how to restore a personal and professional relationship…as an employer I would ask you to reconsider your decision to resign.” Hobby rescinded her resignation during the meeting to work out details with Wilson.
Flower has told the Tribune previously that he never called Hobby a “Little F**cker” but said that outside a meeting, he did say, “Jackie, what the f*** are we doing here?”
What remains uncertain is what took place in June 2022 that prompted the Commissioners to suddenly vote to suspend Hobby with pay until her retirement. The only public statement Commissioner Kevin Day stated at the time was “a serious condition did exist regarding the emotional well-being of the other employees and even with the safety of some employees.” Much of the lawsuit will likely hinge on what took place and the actions of the BOCC in June of 2022.
Hobby is represented by the Law Office of Rachel Maxam, which is based in Westcliffe.
– Jordan Hedberg