Story #1 From 2013-2015 Poll Results: WNW Hire Colorado Springs Attorney Brad Miller to Really Run Jeffco Schools

Even more than crowds of students lining the streets, this might be the defining image of the WNW regime:

Brad miller invoice

Two weeks ago, 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.

This was listed as the top story, selected by more than 60% of our readers. In previous posts in our countdown, we have first stated “What Happened” and then talked about “Why It Matters.” For this final post, we are reversing the order of those entries because we think it’s so important to consider why it matters:

Why It Matters: The questions raised by the WNW’s relationship with Mr. Miller get to the heart of not only the issues that keep getting recited by recall supporters, but to the heart of democratic governance and the nature of education itself.

  1. Should school districts be essentially run by attorneys?
  2. If you believe that it’s OK for attorneys to essentially run a school district, then do you think that it’s OK if that attorney lives an hour and a half away and has almost no connection to the district?
  3. Although attorney-client privilege is an important concept, do you appreciate that almost all of Mr. Miller’s invoices look like that, especially for a public institution?
  4. WNW campaigned on transparency; Brad Miller’s work cannot be described as even remotely transparent. Do you think that Mr. Miller’s work, or live streaming of board meetings, is more important for transparency?
  5. We’re told that Mr. Miller represents “the board” but Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper rarely know what he is doing. Do you think that that’s transparent and good governance?
  6.  School districts need attorneys, but what are the appropriate limitations of their roles?
  7. Traditionally, school districts have been run by people who have deep experience in the day-to-day workings of the educational system. Our school board majority doesn’t have that, our Superintendent was a gym teacher for a brief time before becoming and administrator, and they are led around by an attorney who is working for a number of school districts across the state, coaching them on skating fine lines. Is this all related to an anti-intellectual rebellion against experts in their fields?
  8. Do we want our elected officials to occasionally seek counsel from attorneys about legal questions, or do we want our elected officials to put attorneys in the drivers seat, speeding toward some agenda, redacting all the important steps taken along the way?

 

The work of Brad Miller, and not just his appointment, spark fundamental questions about what we want society to be. It is about who is in charge of our schools, our kids, our community. We believe that if this were the sole issue causing problems, it would be enough to justify a recall. We also believe that if all of the voters fully understood this sole issue and the image above, a recall would pass without any of the other issues in play. The number 1 reason we must recall WNW isn’t to get them out of office, or even McMinimee out of the Superintendent’s chair. It’s ultimately to get Brad Miller away from the controls of our school district.

What Happened: We’ve already covered the hiring of Brad Miller as part of an earlier story on surprise votes, poor governance, and lack of information sharing on the part of Ken Witt. So, the circumstances of his contract approval are bad enough.  See a little more information about that here:

The Board’s Personal Attorney – updated 2/6/14

Mr. Miller now is also the personal attorney to the Thompson School Board in Loveland. This was despite large public protests. The Denver Post has an article here where Miller denies he is a “charter school crusader”.

Mr. Miller and his colleagues have gone on to work for more than a year and a half now with a murky scope. Most worrisome, that redacted legal bill at the top of this post? We didn’t pick out the bill with the most redactions. We picked out a representative bill! This is what the public sees, but it’s also what Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper see. More than a year of billings for Mr. Miller and his colleagues, and what do we see? This, regularly.

It is not a stretch to say that Brad Miller is really in charge of Jeffco Schools. Yes, Ken Witt and Dan McMinimee execute decisions formally, and the PR help contracted by the district works overtime to try to keep giving them all a clean sheen, but anyone watching closely and attending board meetings can tell that the shots are called by Mr. Miller on all of the important matters. Mr. Miller’s vast experience at union-busting and public school busting across Colorado gives him a lot of input into just how WNW should tread the line on ignoring teachers.


 

Story #9 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Against Policy, Witt Repeatedly Withholds Information and Forces Surprise Votes

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. We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #9:

What Happened: First, check out the two videos here, courtesy Support Jeffco Kids and Transparency Jeffco:

Support Jeffco Kids | Facebook

One more small clip. What is the rush? Why not thoughtful discussion? Why not follow policy? They already have the votes to do anything they want to do,…

Board of Education 12-12-13

This is video from the December 12th, 2013 board of education meeting and study session. In it, the board discusses hiring an attorney solely to represent the board.

If these were the only two instances of last-minute information sharing, surprise motions, and violations of “Sunshine Laws,” that would be troubling enough. Rest assured, these videos from September 2015 and December 2013 are just the bookends of a long string of such instances. For strategic reasons, maybe not wanting community criticism, Ken Witt hides as much information as possible from Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. Dahlkemper and Fellman protest that they have not had enough time to review the motion at hand or the relevant background information. They have also not had enough time to ask appropriate questions. Sometimes they (correctly) allege that the late information sharing and surprise vote-taking go against stated board policy. Witt goes ahead and holds the vote anyway. John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have obviously been apprised of the background information, go along with Witt and create a 3-2 vote.

Why It Matters: Trust and good governance. The linchpin of our democratic republic is informed decision making, first by voters about candidates, and then by elected officials about the things they’re voting on. Ours is a country, and a community, that is fine with being in the minority of opinion, if we feel like the issues have been thought through and discussed by the officials we’ve elected. Dahlkemper and Fellman, over and over, could not make informed decisions, because Witt consistently didn’t allow them to be informed in a reasonable manner. Voters see through that. It’s as if everyone that voted for Dahlkemper and Fellman was being disenfranchised every time this happened. People expect better from our public officials.

Furthermore, the pubic deserves to hear spirited debate and a critical back-and-forth about the tough issues facing the school district, even if the discussion still results in a 3-2 vote. Short-circuiting such discussion is the purview of despotic leaders. It’s fear-driven. For a “leader” who claims a “mandate” from the voters, to then hide so many discussions about his decisions, there’s a level of hypocrisy that’s obvious to anyone that’s fair-minded.

As was pointed out many times: they had the votes, why did Witt keep doing this? Was it to not allow critical discussion? Was it that their invisible handlers were impatient to keep WNW on a certain timeline according to their playbook, so they didn’t want to have votes spill over or tabled until the next board meeting? Was it just clumsiness and a Nixonian above-the-law arrogance? Perhaps all three of those things? We’ll never know, but we do know that the frequency with which this happened made a lot of people take notice, and that it further eroded whatever trust this board had.

With that, your new daily reminder to vote Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, a decidedly competent and independent-thinking group.