Chief of Staff Laura Neumann is defending Steve Cox, the mayor’s chief of economic vitality and innovation, against allegations of sexual and gender discrimination by Terri Velasquez in a federal civil rights lawsuit.
“Steve Cox is not the man you read about last week,” Neumann wrote in an email submitted as a letter to the editor.
“He is one of the most highly respected City officials bar none, a man of great integrity, character, and compassion. He was my immediate mentor and continues to be a supportive, invaluable resource to me and to many. Let us not allow his good name and three decades worth of service be tarnished by a disgruntled former employee,” Neumann wrote.
“Ms. Velasquez is welcome to cry foul as is her right. But, not on behalf of all professional women over 40 who work for the City of Colorado Springs,” she wrote.
Neumann provided a copy of the letter to me and noted that I had “respectfully” given her the opportunity to comment before the story was published.
“At the time, I did not feel compelled to comment on a pending case of a former City employee. However, after reading it and realizing the impact the article had on our Chief of Economic Vitality; someone I consider to be a good man and an accomplished professional, I now feel I should make my perspective known,” Neumann said in the email.
Here is the full text of Neumann’s letter to the editor:
I feel compelled to write a response in regard to the allegations about Steve Cox’s discrimination against women, particularly those over the age of 40 who are in executive level City positions. I find it shameful that someone would think it a “good story” to publish such incendiary remarks about a City official who served such a critical leadership role in the successful management of the worst crisis in our City’s history. When that story hit, I believe Steve had logged over 20 days of intense and demanding work that well exceeded 12 hours a day. Not only did I cringe when I realized those personal attacks were in the paper, I was mortified when I realized they were on the front page.
With only seven months of City tenure, I have not met Ms. Velasquez nor do I know the intimate details leading up to her dismissal. But, what I do know is this. Not only do I think her termination was unrelated to her age and sex; I believe that City management has proved just the opposite of sexual and age discrimination with the hiring of several key executives in the past year under Mayor Bach’s direction.
Having worked closely with Steve Cox since my appointment as Chief of Staff, I will say there has never been a moment in time that I was dismissed or treated any less than a professional peer and equal. Bear in mind, of all who could have been hired in a role to replace him, my lack of municipal government experience could have made me a prime target if such a culture existed within City management. Instead, I found him a patient, willing, and an accessible resource who openly displayed deference to my position when the situation warranted.
Most telling to all who read this is how Steve and I led, followed, and worked together during the Waldo Canyon fire crisis. Not a day passed where Chiefs, Directors, and Managers did not spend hours crammed in Police Chief Carey’s conference room together managing ever-changing critical information while making crucial policy decisions. Some contributors were brand new to the team (2 weeks); others were 30+ years. Nearly half were women. Some days, Steve led our session. Others, I did. Every day, multiple times, he or I would get interrupted with an urgent matter, be pulled away for hours, and simply return to that Policy Room, catch up and assume the role that was necessary at the time (leader, follower, strategic contributor, sometimes contrarian). No ego. No subservience. Just incredible leadership synergy at its finest. When we were not in that room together, our conversations would be less than 60 seconds and usually start with “I need you to…” or “You got this…?” or “Are you good?” Nothing more was needed as the respect and intuitive crisis management connection were ever present.
So, please know that Steve Cox is not the man you read about last week. He is one of the most highly respected City officials bar none, a man of great integrity, character, and compassion. He was my immediate mentor and continues to be a supportive, invaluable resource to me and to many. Let us not allow his good name and three decades worth of service be tarnished by a disgruntled former employee. Ms. Velasquez is welcome to cry foul as is her right. But, not on behalf of all professional women over 40 who work for the City of Colorado Springs.