Criminal Justice, Exclusives, Featured, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

One year after startup, Severance Police Chief on unpaid leave, sergeant no longer with department

SEVERANCE, COLO — Just more than one year after the small Northern Colorado town of Severance established its first-ever police department, its Chief is on unpaid administrative leave and a sergeant is no longer with the department.

Severance is a statutory municipality located northwest of Greeley in Weld County.  The town’s website estimates the population at around 7,300. Prior to establishing its department last year, Severance contracted with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office for police services.

Misty Siderfin (left) and Theresa Barger are shown during a lighter moment in this 2016 photo for a story on advice to women aspiring to go into law enforcement. Photo Courtesy of The Summit Daily.

It is unknown why Sergeant Theresa Barger is no longer with the department and Police Chief Misty Siderfin is on unpaid leave. Town Administrator, Nicholas Wharton was unable to provide details, citing employee confidentiality. However, Complete Colorado is working with Wharton to get all information as required under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

Siderfin’s hire was much heralded across the state as a woman chief for a start-up department. She hired several other female officers, drawing much attention for her efforts towards women in law enforcement.

According to Wharton, Siderfin was hired at a salary of $100,000 per year on July 17, 2018. Barger was hired on Oct. 1, 2018 at an annual salary of $70,000. Both women worked for the Silverthorne Police Department at the time of their hire in Severance. Complete Colorado has also filed for their employment records with Silverthorne under CORA.

Misty Siderfin

The department is currently being led by an interim chief, Johnstown Police Commander Aaron Sanchez.  He was hired on a short-term contract beginning Oct. 8 and ending on Dec. 31. Severance is covering Sanchez’s employee salary and benefits for Johnstown at a rate of just under $61 per hour.

Former Fort Collins police officer Russell Reed has been hired to take over as the second interim police chief on Dec. 23. His salary was unavailable.

Under CORA, public employee employment files are open to the public with the exception of personal identifying information and anything that the employer needs to maintain a working relationship with the employee, such as addresses, bank accounts, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, etc.

Theresa Barger

Complete Colorado’s CORA requests to both Severance and Silverthorne asked for the full employment records of both Siderfin and Barger, including any reviews or disciplinary actions taken against Siderfin and/or Barger while in their employment, whether those are in the actual “employee file,” or stored elsewhere.

Compete Colorado has previously succeeded in Weld District Court for the release of employment files concerning a Weld County employee. In that ruling, 19th Judicial District Judge Marcelo Kopcow cited previous decisions in Colorado courts that ruled on the side of the media. Kopkow’s decision also relied on whether public employees have less of an expectation of privacy than private-sector employees.  Assistant Weld County Attorney Frank Haug agreed in that case that they do.

Kopcow said in his ruling that he believes the legislature enacted CORA to make sure that the government remained transparent in how it operates, and an employee’s performance record was a part of that transparency.

Complete Colorado will continue to follow this story.

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