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“Brash” new board member rocks Greeley

It’s not every day that a school board member gets served a court summons at a school board meeting. But that’s not even Brett Reese’s most noteworthy exploit.

Brett Reese

Brett Reese

Since his election to the Greeley-Evans school board in November, Reese, a Greeley radio station owner, has called for the recall of the school board chairman and most of his fellow board members and the firing of the superintendent; he’s put in a request to see every school district bill in excess of $1,000 for the past two years; he’s pushed for a boycott of the Greeley Tribune; and he’s referred to his fellow board members as “rats,” “playground bullies,” “flip-floppers” and “tired, old members who haven’t the strength to think through anything different.”

He has repeatedly declined to speak to the Tribune but did offer an interview to the paper if the reporter signed a contract agreeing to publish Reese’s comments verbatim and pay a $5,000 penalty if the comments were edited.

Randy Bangert, editor of the Tribune, publicly declined Reese’s offer in an op-ed piece just before Christmas and chided him for his intractability. “I’ve never encountered anything like this, and I’ve been in the news business 35 years,” Bangert said in a telephone interview, referring to Reese’s contract offer. “Which is why I thought it was worth writing about. It’s so bizarre and unusual.”

Since he has frozen out the local newspaper, Reese instead communicates through his radio station blog and, most recently, through Greeleyreport.com, a right-wing conservative website that promotes itself as “the eyes and ears of the truth-seeking, freedom-loving coalition of northern Colorado.”

The site has agreed to run Reese’s comments verbatim, with no editing. You can read Reese’s response to the Tribune op-ed piece here.

Statesmanship ineffective?

And on Dec. 16, during a break in a school board work session, Reese was served a summons ordering him to appear in court on Jan. 4 to answer questions about an unpaid debt to a plumber. Read the details of that here.

“I’m in contact with several U.S. and state senators, several friends who are former congresspeople, and they said the school board’s as hot as it gets,” said Reese, owner and program director of Pirate Radio 104.7 FM, an oldies station. “Several have counseled me to be a statesman, to compromise to get something done.

“But the fact of the matter is, every other board member is several years retired. They’re not changing their ways. They’re not going to admit past mistakes. And they’re certainly not going to negotiate with a snot-nosed 40-year-old in diapers.”

Reese, the father of three young home-schooled daughters –the oldest of which works as a disc jockey at the radio station – says he’s following in the footsteps of John Barry, the Aurora Public Schools superintendent under whose leadership that district has made notable improvements of late.

“He’s a businessman,” Reese says of Barry. “And what he’s done there needs to be implemented in this district. I can’t imagine running any of my businesses the way this district is run and even have any hope of success. I have no dog in this fight. I homeschool my kids, but I can’t stand to see this district being run so poorly.”

He complains that Greeley teachers lack autonomy and that’s he’s been prohibited from freely talking to them. He also complains that his efforts to get details about district spending have been stymied. “I don’t know how they’re expecting me to vote with any aptitude on a new budget without that information,” he says.

Name-calling as a strategy

Like others, Bangert simply doesn’t know what to make of Reese, who rode a wave of public discontent with the school district into office, running as the only candidate for school board who opposed the district’s Ballot Issue 3A, a request to increase the mill levy to raise $16 million for schools. Voters defeated that measure by a 2-1 margin.

“He was elected and he does have some support for where he stands on the issues,” says Bangert. “He just has a very different, uh, way about him. We made mention of this in an editorial when we didn’t endorse him. We said then that he seems to focus on name-calling as a strategy to get his point out. That’s still accurate. He has an interesting way of trying to accomplish things.”

If Bangert is circumspect in his comments about this rogue school board member, others are even more so.

“No comment,” said Sarah McQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, and another target of Reese’s ire over what he sees as unjustifiable taxes.

“I would prefer not to comment,” says school board member Judy Kron, or “The Kron” (pronounced “crone”) as Reese has referred to her. “It’s our board policy not to talk about each other, even though…well, we’re trying hard to figure out how to work with each other.”

Amy Oliver, director of operations for the libertarian Independence Institute and director of Colorado Spending Transparency, is happy to talk about Reese, however.

“I think he certainly brings a different perspective to the school board,” she said. “A lot of the school board members are educators or former educators or involved in the education establishment and Brett is not. He’s a small business guy looking to bring some much-needed transparency to the school board.”

Brashness poses challenges

Oliver acknowledges that Reese’s brashness rubs some people the wrong way. “His tactics can be a little unconventional at times,” she says. “But he is bringing attention to issues that the school board has refused to address in the past. Sometimes bringing attention can be tough.”

Board chairman Bruce Broderius says he’s trying to be tolerant of Reese. “I’m trying to be philosophical, but sometimes it really bites on you,” he says. “I don’t believe he represents any significant number of people in our community. He is brash. He’s inexperienced. But this happens from time to time. You get people elected to a board and they really think they have to tell the experienced people how to do it. He’s in that category.”

“We have a tough deal up here. We’re really under the gun,” Broderius says, “and I’m not getting any help from Mr. Reese. He just wants to attack things. And this is just the beginning for him. He seems to have a whole agenda. So I guess we’ll just wait and see, because I’m sure there will be more.”