Jul 25, 2022 - News

Colorado emergency management chief under fire for hostile workplace

Mike Willis stands over Gov. Jared Polis' left shoulder as the governor announces a state of emergency in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Mike Willis stands over Gov. Jared Polis' left shoulder as the governor announces a state of emergency in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado's emergency management chief is under fire, as newly revealed details show he created a hostile work environment through berating staff and breaking out in bouts of rage.

Why it matters: The turmoil surrounding director Mike Willis' tenure comes amid the apex of Colorado's wildfire season, and raises questions about the Polis administration's disaster preparedness.

Driving the news: Willis displayed a pattern of misconduct, cursing at his colleagues and becoming aggressive repeatedly over his five years as chief, according to a Denver Post review of state records and interviews with officials.

  • He was suspended for his actions twice in the past 18 months. Despite this record, it was only earlier this year that he was warned that another incident would lead to his termination.
  • An internal personnel investigation into whether Willis was drunk during the response to the STEM School shooting in 2019 was recently dismissed as unsubstantiated.

What he's saying: Willis acknowledged that he "can be intimidating on occasion," but blamed it on his passion for his work.

The intrigue: Picked for the job by former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Willis has played a prominent role in Gov. Jared Polis' management of COVID-19.

  • But recently, he has been less publicly visible as part of the governor's wildfire preparedness focus.
  • Through a spokesperson, Polis declined to comment on Willis' conduct.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found

Denverpostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more