Emergency agency scrutinized

Investigation documents behavior by director

Olivia Prentzel
The Colorado Sun
Posted 8/2/22

State officials are seeking a consultant to evaluate the culture, structure and effectiveness of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, state documents show, days after a Denver …

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Emergency agency scrutinized

Investigation documents behavior by director

Posted

State officials are seeking a consultant to evaluate the culture, structure and effectiveness of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, state documents show, days after a Denver Post investigation documented a troubling history of aggressive and inappropriate behavior from one of its directors, Mike Willis.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety is looking for a consulting service to gauge employee satisfaction within the state’s division that responds to all types of disasters in Colorado, according to documents posted Monday on the state’s database of vendors.

The contractor will conduct “an environmental scan using whatever tool the vendor deems appropriate” to review leadership and employee development opportunities, as well as analyze current organizational structure, including office placement and supervisory lines, according to state documents outlining the project.

The state set a June 28 deadline for applications and is asking vendors to complete a report, including recommendations for the division to improve its culture and structure, no later than Dec. 31.

It’s unclear how much money the state plans to spend on the review.

The request for vendors comes after a scathing Denver Post report about Mike Willis during his five years at the helm of Colorado’s responses to natural and public health disasters. Willis has been suspended twice in the past 18 months for behavior that included intimidating workers, throwing objects in rage and berating female employees, the Post reported.

Willis, who was appointed to run the state’s Office of Emergency Management in 2017, was warned that he would likely be fired “for any similar misconduct” in the future, the newspaper reported.

Willis did not immediately return a request for comment. In an email to the Post, Willis called some accounts from his colleagues as “inaccurate,” that he can be “intimidating on occasion” and that he is “passionate about our mission and ensuring those that work, live and play in Colorado are served to the best of our ability.”

The controversy surrounding Willis has become a political issue for Gov. Jared Polis as he campaigns for reelection in November.

A spokesman for Polis declined to comment on the situation when reached on June 27 by The Colorado Sun.

Polis’ Republican opponent, Heidi Ganahl, issued a statement calling for the governor to hold Willis accountable. Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown blasted Polis for not speaking out.

“Coloradans deserve a governor who will fire individuals like this who create unacceptable, hostile work environments,” Burton Brown said in a written statement. “Polis’ lack of leadership in standing up for state employees against this kind of harassment is pathetic.”

Willis has been the director of Colorado’s Office of Emergency Management since November 2017, meaning he was hired when former Gov. John Hickenlooper was still in office. Polis became governor in January 2019.

This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For more, and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.

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