LONGMONT — Glenn Spagnuolo says he jokes with colleagues that he keeps Wednesday mornings free so he can get called on the carpet by his bosses for what he’d said at the previous night’s city council meeting.
“I’ve been brought in numerous times for what I’ve said,” Spagnuolo said Tuesday evening. “I guess it means I’m being effective.”
Now, Spagnuolo finds himself under investigation, accused of misusing city resources in his defense of controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. City officials confirm they’re reviewing both Spagnuolo’s comments and the time and manner in which he made them.
Spagnuolo on Tuesday night said for the first time that his city bosses had previously warned him about comments he made on his own time. The city investigation ostensibly focuses on whether he was on the clock when he gave a radio interview supporting Churchill. Investigators have also examined his computer and interviewed his co-workers.
“What he was saying is that he knows I can legally say it but that he wishes I wouldn’t,” Spagnuolo said of his supervisor, Jeff Friesner. Spagnuolo said he’s also been “spoken to” by Friesner’s boss, Community Services director Karen Roney. She declined to comment.
But Tuesday night, dozens of city residents, Churchill and other supporters had plenty to say about the investigation. They protested outside the Longmont Civic Center and then flooded the council chambers to back Spagnuolo. His supporters hope to end the investigation and win him an apology.
“This is designed explicitly to chill dissident opinion,” Churchill said. “They’re sending a message. The abridgement of rights has already occurred. This is McCarthyism, only slimier.”
While the protest received widespread media coverage, and many people lobbied the city council in Spagnuolo’s defense, the city isn’t backing down. Two police officers stood silent watch Tuesday night, an unusual presence for a council meeting.
“In a democracy, you have to risk opening your mouth or you risk losing everything you have,” said Rachel Combelic, a Bross Street resident. City officials have received about 10 e-mails and calls from people offering a similar opinion.
In a statement, city manager Gordon Pedrow said any employer has the right to hold its workers accountable for their conduct and actions. He and other city officials have striven to distinguish between Spagnuolo’s rights to speak on his private time versus his responsibilities as a city recreation services employee.
“It is an important city policy, and expectation of our citizens, that city employees use public funds and resources efficiently for legitimate public purposes,” Pedrow said. “As an employer, the government has a right and a duty to hold its employees accountable for conduct that compromises the delivery of public services and performance of public functions.”
Other city officials point out that Spagnuolo and his supporters have repeatedly claimed he was suspended when he was asked only to leave his office early. They also dispute Spagnuolo’s claims he was escorted from his office, and say that if Spagnuolo is willing to stretch the truth in those cases, his other claims are hard to give credence to.
Said Pedrow: “The city of Longmont has not impeded Mr. Spagnuolo’s right to speak about issues of concern.”
Spagnuolo said that’s exactly what’s happened. He said his bosses are uncomfortable with his positions against President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, and his support for American Indians in their fight to reclaim lands.
Spagnuolo and the Longmont Citizens for Justice and Democracy have already fought several high-profile battles with the council in the past year. They were unable to prevent the council from permitting a Wal-Mart Supercenter, but they persuaded officials to strike the name “Chivington Drive” from street signs.
Tuesday night, members of the same groups who were supporting Spagnuolo succeeded in persuading the council to kill without discussion a proposal clarifying the city’s parade and protest ordinances. The council voted 5-1 to drop the proposal, with Mayor Julia Pirnack dissenting.
Before the hearing, about 40 people protested the ordinances on the front steps of the civic center, vowing to fight any encroachment on their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble. The ordinances said anyone who wanted to put a table on a city sidewalk or street needed a permit. That doesn’t represent a change from current practice, but opponents appeared surprised it was a requirement.
Councilors said the ordinance changes appeared to be unnecessary. And they declined to address the Spagnuolo situation. Roney, Spagnuolo’s supervisor, said to comment would be “inappropriate.”
Spagnuolo said he’s hired a lawyer — the same one representing Churchill in a CU conduct inquiry — but is prepared to let the matter drop if the city apologizes. Spagnuolo has not been suspended and remains on the job.
He said his work environment has become uncomfortable because his co-workers have been repeatedly interviewed by human resources workers, and because he’s being followed everywhere he goes by city investigators.
“This could all go away tomorrow with a public apology in the Times-Call,” Spagnuolo said.
Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at