Reader’s Thoughts on Being Told that WNW Vote is “Godly” Choice

Another Guest Column for our “Faithful and Fed Up” series, this time from a reader of faith who is beside herself that her vote is being tied to Witt, Williams, and Newkirk’s “Godly” attributes:

FaithfulFedUpSomeone told me today that voting against the recall would keep “Godly” people in their leadership positions.

I felt gutted.

I found the suggestion that I would prove my respect for God if I voted for Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk infuriating.

Let’s start by saying that I disagree with them.

To me, “Godly” people don’t shame and humiliate a student who is bravely standing up to voice her experience as a student in Jeffco to her school board.

To me, “Godly” people don’t comfortably compare the atrocities that Black people in the south suffered through during the 60’s to being in a charter school.

To me, “Godly” people don’t arrogantly run a school board while pompously ignoring the needs and wants of the very community they were elected to serve.

To me, “Godly” people don’t tell students to stay at home during Jeffco’s Day Without Hate. We have a suicide problem directly linked to hateful things like that.

To me, “Godly” people don’t speak at workshops co-hosted by a political group that openly suggests violent acts in order to defend and preserve White power.

However, I will pause and respectfully acknowledge that many people may agree and even feel grateful for some of the changes this board majority suggests. Some voters might like to see our history and health curriculum modified to align more closely with their religious beliefs. So, to them, I say, vote.

As one person who considers herself “Godly,” I retain one strong belief:

Those in public office need to run their office with honesty, transparency, and a willingness to listen to their community members. A quick look into the origins of most religions will guide you to leaders who follow those clear guidelines about respect.

So, this Godly person is going to vote for the Clean Slate. Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon all bring with them a strong commitment to doing what is right. I have no doubt that they will follow the Golden Rule and treat others and they would like to be treated.

They will think of their own children when they make decisions that impact mine, they will consider the needs of the many, and they will let community input guide their decisions.

Story #8 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Koch Brothers and Other Major Outside Funding Flood Jeffco for WNW

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

Note that if we had run the poll this week, we certainly would have included Witt’s bizarre and appalling press conference that even his media allies can’t restrain themselves from criticizing and joking about. Safe to say that his presser will be on everyone’s mind for a while.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #8:

Koch

What Happened: To summarize what we posted a few weeks ago, in 2013, WNW sent approximately 6 mailers out across much of Jefferson County. Jeffco Students First also sent out “The Jeffco Observer.” According to multiple professional estimates, the mailers alone would have cost *at least* $200,000 dollars for design, printing, and postage. The Observer, designed largely to support WNW, cost a lot too.

These communications were paid for by sources outside of their official campaign reporting, by third-party organizations that were nonetheless formed specifically to aid WNW. This is what’s often called “dark money.” WNW’s campaigns also raised some money.

Clear as day on mailers was “Americans for Prosperity”: The Koch Brothers’ political advertising and activism machine. As for other donors? It appears that WNW’s biggest fundraiser took place in Arapahoe County, and the guest list was packed with wealthy donors from outside of Jeffco.

Meanwhile, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne, and Gordon “Spud” van de Water each raised in the $35,000-$60,000 range for their official campaigns. Those numbers were indeed higher than the “official” reporting for WNW’s campaigns, but A LOT LESS than the money that was spent on all of the mailers via the “dark money.” Why is that “dark money?” Because most or all of it came from the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity, or the other wealthy donors from outside Jeffco, and THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT.

It’s like comparing two families’ spending on food for a month, and saying that one spends a lot more after just comparing their grocery bills, neglecting the fact that the other family that’s spending less on groceries is only doing so because someone is paying for them to eat out at restaurants all the time. In the end, which family spent more?

It’s simple: WNW easily outspent their opponents in 2013. In their usual sneaky tactics, WNW’s allies are just looking only at the official campaign contributions in order to convince you that they were outspent, to further the idea that their elections were driven by a “grassroots” effort.  That’s both laughable and sad. As you can see, WNW really weren’t outspent, and that’s a major reason we’re in this mess.

Why It Matters: We think that everyone intuitively understands why this matters. Political research indicates that more than 90% of elections are decided by those who spend more money. Of course, some of that is because the candidates have real grassroots support among the people that know them, but the Kochs and others wouldn’t be doing this unless they knew that it was usually successful. In local elections, although people joke about putting mailers straight in the trash, they do work because they’re often the only exposure many busy voters have to candidates. Send a good mailer, get a vote.

The juxtaposition is shocking. Not that long ago, winning school board candidates in Jeffco commonly raised $10,000 – $20,000 for some yard signs and brochures, and perhaps a mailer to a cross-section of voters. The sudden transformation from the $10,000 range to $1,000,000+ should cause anyone alarm. That kind of jump in spending, especially on a nonpartisan election, should raise huge red flags about the political nature of the fight. It should also raise your hackles.

It is a disturbing trend that anyone can spend unlimited amounts, mostly hidden, wherever there want, on any local race in the country. Somehow it seems even more painful in Jeffco. Maybe that’s because we’re from Jeffco, and we pride ourselves in the rich history of independence and spirited debate among locals here. This is Colorado; this is Jeffco; we are independent and don’t take well to outsiders with an agenda trying to buy elections and supporting candidates that they don’t even know.

It also matters because it looks as if they’re on an even bigger spending spree to support WNW in 2015. Look for “Americans for Prosperity” on that TV ad, door hanger, or mailer…and then vote for Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell, who have vastly more local support in every way.


 

Reflections from an Outgoing School Board Member

school-crossingRecently we were able to snag some communication time with outgoing Jeffco School Board member and former board president Lesley Dahlkemper.  We wanted to get a clear view from a current board member about what was working and what was not working on the school board.  Future board members, regardless of their political stripes, can learn valuable insights from a veteran.  As a voter, please consider her wins and losses as you contemplate the types of members you’d like to see on the board in the future.

Ms. Dahlkemper’s top two accomplishments were around budgeting and community engagement.  She came in during a time of very tight budget constraints.  “The board collaborated with community members, parents, district leaders, educators and the employee associations to make decisions that kept difficult budget cuts away from classrooms,” she said. “This work was tied with walking door-to-door and phone banking with other parents and community members to pass a modest bond package that addressed immediate needs to keep students ‘safe, warm and dry’ as well as a mill levy package to maintain Outdoor Lab, band, class sizes, and other services, which were at risk.”  It was a strong, collaborative community effort.  It was also bipartisan, and both and both Democratic and Republican parents worked on the effort.

With respect to community engagement, she said, “As board president, I worked with my board colleagues and the Colorado Association of School Boards to draft the policy. An excerpt from the policy states: ‘The board believes that engaging our community is essential to preserving a strong system of public education. The board’s policies and decisions should reflect community values, good educational practice and available financial resources.’ Jeffco is one of only a handful of school  boards with such a policy.”

Unfortunately, community engagement takes more than just listening.  It takes courage to act according to the wishes of the public.  Ms. Dahlkemper explained “My greatest disappointment [over the last two years] was several failed motions during multiple board meetings to fund full-day kindergarten for schools with students on the cusp of free- and reduced-lunch.”

The board was presented with data, many times, about this critical need and impact it makes on children.  During her first two years, the former board did approve full-day kindergarten funding for more than one dozen at risk schools, but the current board repeatedly turned down her motions on a 3-2 vote in the last two years.

Not only should the board listen and act according to the public wishes to the degree they can with budget constraints, they should also listen to each other. Jeffco Schools has had a rich tradition of board members with diverse views who have worked together in the best interests of all children.

In the past, they listened closely to our community to identify priorities.  They followed board policies that required them to study a proposal and ask questions – with a vote always occurring at the second meeting.  “It’s been disheartening to see surprise after surprise introduced at the board table,” she said. “These surprises range from hiring a school board attorney prior to knowing his hourly rate and scope of work to a recent resolution gutting months of work by parent and district leaders designed to better align the district accountability committee to state law to a new compensation system that was never fully vetted with Ms. Fellman, me or employees – as policy requires.”

The message from this outgoing member could not be more clear:  “Listen to the community – including those with whom you agree and disagree. Study the issues. Ask lots of questions. Find common ground and build from there. Communicate clearly – and in a variety of ways – to the public about the board’s rationale for its decisions. Work closely with other board members to come up with meaningful, innovative solutions to complex challenges. Always remember that your decisions affect 85,000 children and the quality of Jeffco’s schools. These decisions have implications for us all regardless of whether we have children enrolled in a Jeffco school. Great schools and great communities go hand-in-hand. It is a privilege to serve on the Jeffco school board.”

As for staying engaged in education, don’t worry.  Besides her full time job in education, Ms. Dahlkemper is involved in her daughter’s school – both its PTA and school accountability committees. As any parent of a tween knows, being a supportive, present parent is key at this time in her daughter’s life.  She will have much more time to do this effectively.

On the fun side, she’ll spend her Sundays reading the New York Times and Denver Post cover to cover in lieu of Board Docs. Most of all she says, “I’m eager to spend more time with my daughter, Grace, and my husband, Mike. It seems like just yesterday we were taking Grace to Rooney Ranch Elementary School for her first day of kindergarten. In two short years, she will be in high school.  In six years, she will graduate from high school. Time is fleeting. I want to be fully present for her and for Mike.”

 

10.8.15 Witt’s Carnival Sideshow

If you saw Witt’s stunt this morning–and it’s hard to imagine that you didn’t because social media has not stopped talking about it since–you know that it was merely a distraction.

  1. The Independent Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over Colorado school board members (see page 6).
  2. The IEC isn’t meeting until Nov. 6 — after the election.
  3. There’s no reason for them to call a special early meeting (see #1, above).

Witt’s complaint only asks if voting on the matter in a public meeting was a violation of sunshine laws, failing to make the distinction between voting in public and deciding in public. Sunshine laws exist to prevent elected officials from merely rubber-stamping behind-the-scenes decisions in public.

Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams made the decision to hire Brad Miller before the Dec. 13 board meeting.  We know because Bob Kerrigan, president of the Thompson School District Board of Education, told his fellow board members that Jeffco had a school board attorney — and told them this on Wednesday, a full day before the Dec. 13 Jeffco BOE meeting where the issue was first discussed in public.

Not only did Kerrigan know that Jeffco had already hired a firm 24 hours before the BOE met to discuss the issue, he knew that Jeffco would be hiring Brad Miller himself, as reported by the Reporter Herald on Dec. 12:

Kerrigan then revealed that a contract had already been drawn up by a Colorado Springs-based law firm that currently represents Jefferson County schools.

The proposed contract, dated two days after Kerrigan was elected board president, begins: “We are pleased that the District has asked Millers Sparks LLC … to represent Thompson.”

It’s an issue we’ve written about multiple times, and it’s one of many, many reasons to vote yes on the recall.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with some of today’s highlights, such as the 7 News story “Jeffco Public Schools board president Ken Witt stunts for attention as he faces recall” (and hopefully this clip will open with the anchor saying “Bizarre news out of Jeffco today” because that’s by far our favorite).

And we’ll end with one of the many, many funny social media posts that we saw in our feed today:

Charles Buchanan on Twitter

Kinda wish Witt had ended the press-stunt with a citizens arrest of himself. #Copolitics #JeffcoRecall #JeffCo

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

Recall 101: Your Guide to the Candidates and Issues

DSCN0244You asked and we did it: a Recall 101 page highlighting the top issues that prompted the recall.

There’s a tab at the top of our website homepage so you can access it easily and share it with others. Thanks to our readers for the suggestion!