Former board members voice concern about open governance

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By Daniel Laverty

Several former Jeffco school board members attended last Thursday’s meeting and signed up for public comment, including Jon DeStefano, Judy Pierce, Dave Thomas, Debby Oberbeck, Sue Marinelli and Rick Rush.

Former board member and president Dave DiGiacomo spoke for all the former members. DiGiacomo served on the board from 1991 to 1999.

“We care deeply for the students, teachers, staff and administrators of this district,” DiGiacomo said. “We have become concerned with the actions of our newly elected school board members.”

DiGiacomo said he and other former board members took pride in being open and transparent with the Jeffco community.

“That seems to be a course that has lately not been used by this new board and new members of our board,” he said. “We’ve been watching. And now the board has hired an attorney for just the Board of Education. The new board apparently hired this attorney without including (board members Dahlkemper and Fellman) and including public discussion.”

DiGiacomo urged the board to consider the former board members’ concerns, to be transparent with the public and to treat each board member with respect.

No discussion about new board attorney

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper made a second motion before the meeting adjourned to dedicate time for the board to have a public discussion on the hiring of its new attorney, Brad Miller.

Member Jill Fellman agreed with Dahlkemper, and wanted to add some time for discussion at the board’s Feb. 6 regular meeting.

The board voted 3-2 to hire Miller, of Miller Sparks LLC, at its Dec. 12 meeting. Fellman and Dahlkemper, who voted against hiring the Colorado Springs-based attorney, thought the decision was rushed.

“I want to discuss what (Miller’s) scope of work will be, his timeline and his fee,” Fellman said.

“If we want to discuss that, I think the discussion should include the last two or three years, and we should ask what the scope of work was and how much public discussion was held with the board’s previous contracts,” member John Newkirk said.

“When the board took the vote, we didn’t even have a contract in front of us to approve,” Dahlkemper said. “There was no scope of work. We should provide opportunity for public dialogue.”

“I’d like this board to move from revisiting decisions that have already been approved,” board President Ken Witt said. “(Members of the school board) have had plenty of time to (talk) with Mr. Miller.”

Witt and Newkirk said there was confusion with the retirement date of Allen Taggart, the district’s former chief legal counsel, and that they felt an attorney to assist the board was necessary.

Taggart’s last day was Dec. 31, Stevenson said.

The motion to add a discussion to the board’s Feb. 6 agenda failed 3-2, with Julie Williams, Newkirk and Witt voting against.

Motion denied in hiring district employee

Along with serving as the district’s chief legal counsel, Taggart, whose last day was Dec. 31, also served as the district’s head of employee relations.

Stevenson originally had an item on the consent agenda to hire Nicole Tuescher of Minnesota to fill the vacant position. Witt requested the item to be moved to the regular agenda for discussion.

“Considering this is a personnel matter, I’d like to make a motion that we move this matter to an executive session to discuss,” Witt said.

“I recommend that any conversation be held publicly,” Dahlkemper said.

Witt requested a roll call on his motion, which passed 3-2, with Dahlkemper and Fellman voting against.

The decision was met with boos from the audience.

Attorney Jim Branum, who is filling in for Taggart, informed Witt that it takes a two-thirds vote to move into executive session.

“On a five-member board, two-thirds is four (votes),” Branum said.

Miller, the board’s new attorney, wanted to double-check Branum’s claim, and soon conceded that Branum was correct.

“I feel that (this position) needs to be hired by our new superintendent,” Williams said. “It’s important for me to provide the incoming superintendent (the chance) to fill key positions. I don’t want to impede on that.”

“We are a billion-dollar company,” Stevenson said. “This position deals with (many issues). We might have an employee misconduct issue. There is a legal aspect to the job, and I consider it essential.”

Dahlkemper said that if the new superintendent wasn’t satisfied with Tuescher, the new superintendent could fire Tuescher, adding it’s common, and to be expected, that employment changes are going to happen when a new CEO is hired and joins a company.

Witt said he was concerned that Tuescher, who is from Minnesota, is trained to practice law only in the northern state. Stevenson said she spoke with Tuescher, who said her license is eligible to be transferred to Colorado.

The motion to hire Tuescher failed 3-2, with Dahlkemper and Fellman voting in favor.

Reserve funds for bonuses

At the first official meeting of the new board on Nov. 21, Witt asked for information on possibly withdrawing between $5 million and $7 million from the district’s reserve fund to give district staff a one-time bonus and help reduce fees for parents.

The board decided to delay withdrawing reserve funds and revisit the notion for the 2014-15 budget year.

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com.  Follow Daniel on Twitter @LavertyReports.