Mike Willis, emergency response

Mike Willis, Director of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management within the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He is in charge of the state's emergency response team working on COVID-19.

Allegations of abusive behavior by the director of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management have prompted the state to look for someone who can evaluate the department's workplace culture.

The Office of Emergency Management is part of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, a division within the Department of Public Safety.

During his five years running the agency, Mike Willis, who has been director of OEM since November 2017, has twice been suspended, and most recently warned that his behavior couldn't happen again.

Allegations against Willis, were first reported by the Denver Post on July 25. According to the Post, Willis displayed a "pattern of aggressive behavior and inappropriate, unprofessional conduct." That behavior included "berating female staffers, throwing objects in rage and intimidating workers to the point they thought it was close to getting physical." Willis also has been accused of being intoxicated on the job, the Post reported.

The state's contracting system issued a notice on July 25 for a vendor "to perform workplace assessments." That bid is due at 2 p.m. today, while a report is due by Dec. 31.

Under the terms of the bid to be issued by the Department of Public Safety, the vendor will:

  • Conduct an environmental scan to gauge overall employee satisfaction in a division that operates in a dynamic, crisis-driven manner responding to all types of disasters in Colorado
  • Conduct interviews with groups or individuals as necessary to follow up on information obtained from the scan. The number and composition of interviews will be determined by the vendor in consultation with the department
  • Analyze the current organizational structure, including office placement and supervisory lines, for internal effectiveness, external service, and overall operational health
  • Review leadership and employee development opportunities within the division, the department, and with external organizations; and,
  • Make recommendations for improving the culture and structure of the division based on the information gathered

The bid announcement notes that the emergency management office has approximately 125 full time and part time employees. Staff will be expected to participate in this workplace assessment as part of their job duties and will not be provided with incentives to cooperate, the bid announcement said.

Willis previously served in the Colorado National Guard. The Post said Willis showed a similar pattern of abusive behavior during that service. Willis said an incident in which he was accused of throwing a chair never happened and that he had never been disciplined by the Guard.

Willis has been a prominent member of the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, leading the state's effort on COVID-19 preparedness.

In a tweet in March, Willis said his greatest achievement during the pandemic was building a full service operational warehouse. He also cited the "incredibly smart, agile & resilient response team" for the state's success in dealing with the pandemic.

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