My organization represents whistleblowers. Our mission is to protect the employees who protect our environment. That entails supporting public employees in their efforts to ensure transparency in government and science-based decision making. Not surprisingly, the most common barrier our clients face is politics interfering with the ability to do their jobs.
Wolf reintroduction in Colorado is an example of a public resource management issue infused with politics. People on both sides of wolf reintroduction have strong feelings. So, Ballot Initiative 114 put the Colorado Division of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in a delicate position, requiring the agency to walk a fine line of supplying factual information, but without advocating for or against either side.
Unfortunately, one senior employee could not maintain the professional neutrality required by his job. JT Romatzke, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Regional Manager was a vocal opponent of Initiative 114. Even after voters passed it in November 2020, he continued to campaign against it — on government time.
One month after its passage, Romatzke urged his subordinates, during official time and using state funds, to discredit what he perceived to be pro-wolf appointees in order to slow plans by the governor to release wolves in Colorado. He ordered staff to gather video clips showing two perceived pro-wolf CPW commissioners in a bad light. The effort was intended to diminish the influence of one commissioner, Taishya Adams, and block Senate confirmation of the other, Jay Tutchton.
Romatzke also allegedly leaked communications about wolf reintroduction from the governor’s office and CPW leadership to the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which had opposed Initiative 114, in hopes that the leaks would disrupt reintroduction plans. To further this effort, he urged his staff to work with anti-wolf factions to “spread the message” about potential adverse impacts.
One of the CPW employees under him, Randy Hampton, knew that Romatzke’s maneuvering was wrong, and he blew the whistle. Hampton’s disclosures triggered an internal investigation that confirmed his charges.
That investigation led CPW to suspend Romatzke for 90 days (believed to be with full pay) and then to fully reinstate him as Northwest Regional Manager with all of his prior duties — including overseeing Randy Hampton. Hampton knew that this was an untenable position and decided to resign.
Fortunately, Hampton’s departure did not go unnoticed. The resulting controversy that Hampton was forced out of his job for revealing this information caused CPW to reconsider its actions. On Wednesday, Oct. 13, according to The Daily Sentinel the agency ultimately removed Romatzke from his supervisory position and reassigned him to be a Shooting Range and Real Estate Development Manager.
While we applaud CPW’s reversal, we also should not forget the public employee who risked and lost his career to protect the public interest. True public service can take many forms. Randy Hampton is a true public servant and, in our eyes, is a hero.
Chandra Rosenthal is the Director of the Rocky Mountain Office of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a Grand Junction native.