FORT COLLINS — Laurie Stolen resigned Tuesday after four years as director of Larimer County Behavioral Services in what she described as a “mutual agreement” with county officials.
Laura Walker, the county’s human and economic health director, will also serve as interim behavioral-health director until a permanent replacement for Stolen is named.
“I’m the hiring authority for that position,” Walker said. “I will be deciding what the plan for that is” as well as the timing for posting the position. I want to make sure we have a very inclusive process.”
Walker has worked with the county for 23 years, starting as a human-relations generalist in 2000, and took on her current role 3½ years ago.
Stolen, who is one of 10 Northern Colorado women to be honored Aug. 9 as BizWest’s 2023 Women of Distinction, told BizWest on Thursday that the terms of the agreement with county officials prohibited her from discussing the reasons for her departure, but said she was “getting into behavioral-health consulting and hope to do it on a national level. It’s been exciting to kind of broaden the knowledge here to other communities.
“My hope is that I would go into a consulting business of my own,” Stolen said. “I think there’s a lot of great opportunity ahead for me.”
County commissioners could not be reached for comment on the reasons for Stolen’s departure before BizWest’s afternoon deadline. However, Steve Johnson, who served on the county board from 2009 to 2021 and worked extensively with Stolen, said “this is a typical agreement when you have irreconcilable differences.”
Stolen was “extremely dedicated” and produced “amazing things for this county,” Johnson said, adding that “Larimer County Behavioral Health would be nothing without the passion and leadership of Lori Stolen.”
Stolen in 2010 became director of the Larimer County Alternative Sentencing Department, improving work-release and other programs that allow those convicted of lesser crimes to maintain their jobs while serving their sentences. In 2017, she volunteered to help create a behavioral health facility, part of the goal of safety and well-being in the Larimer County Strategic Plan. Her work helped fuel voter approval in 2018 of a ballot initiative to designate funding for behavioral health and to build the county’s first acute-care behavioral health facility, paid for by a quarter-cent sales and use tax – the first successful ballot initiative after several failed tries to address mental and behavioral health issues in the community, The sales and use tax extends 20 years through 2038, generating an average of $20 million to $22 million a year to cover three areas of service through the county’s Behavioral Health Services department established by the initiative.
As a result, the 40-acre Larimer County Behavioral Health Services Longview Campus at 2260 W. Trilby Road on the southwest edge of Fort Collins is scheduled to begin staffing this fall and and open in December to house a variety of behavioral-health services.
“What the county has done to her is inexcusable,” Johnson said. “It is the height of ingratitude to force somebody out two months before the fruition of years of their incredible service that gave the county and us the premier mental-health center in the state of Colorado.”
Johnson described Stolen as very firm in demanding accountability and measures of performance, a trait he speculated could have rubbed some the wrong way.
“She is a very passionate, strong-willed woman,” he said, “and there may have been differences with her leadership style that they just could not handle. She wanted to demonstrate to taxpayers that we were getting tangible, measurable results for their investment.
“I think it’s disgraceful,” Johnson said. “I’m very angry that their lack of leadership didn’t find a way to work with her. They have done irreparable damage to the behavioral health progress we have made. I think if they would admit they made a mistake, she might come back.”
Stolen received a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and a master’s in rehabilitative counseling from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is a certified pretrial services professional through the National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies and a certified jail manager through the American Jail Association.