It may be ironic that Jefferson County school board member Laura Boggs will serve on the same committee as the school board colleague who wanted to bar her from sitting on any board committee.
But Boggs wound up Thursday being assigned to the board’s strategic compensation committee along with fellow member Paula Noonan, who said last month that she wanted to prohibit Boggs from any such assignments.
Noonan withdrew her motion earlier this week, she said, “in an effort to start the New Year on a positive note.”
Thursday’s sometimes tense exchange between Boggs and Noonan came in the wake of Boggs’ Dec. 16 censure by four other Jeffco board members for “unethical behavior,” after Boggs allegedly threatened to interfere with a federal grant. Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, in a letter to board members, said Boggs told her in a private meeting that she would endanger a $32.8 million federal grant for teacher performance pay and “tear this county apart.”
At one point during Thursday’s meeting, it appeared Boggs would not receive a committee assignment, despite Noonan’s withdrawal of her motion. But then board member Jane Barnes, who has been serving on the strategic compensation committee, agreed to step down in order to let Boggs take her place. Boggs had expressed a desire to sit on the committee, which already included Noonan as a member.
The purpose of the strategic compensation committee’s purpose is to develop and oversee the district’s Strategic Compensation Initiative, largely funded by the grant Boggs is accused of trying to disrupt. Membership on the committee includes two board of education members and others appointed by the Jefferson County Education Association and by the superintendent.
Noonan will also pursue a seat on the Colorado Association of School Boards’ Federal Relation Network, where Boggs had been a member. The game of musical chairs over committee assignments was preceded by pledges by all present board members – President Dave Thomas was absent at that time – to abide by board policy.
Boggs seemed to be the target of Noonan’s remarks about “reliability” and “board norms” in discussions before the board made committee assignments. She accused Boggs of “flipping around” on positions, especially concerning the controversial statewide ballot measures 60, 61, and 101.
Boggs denied she ever violated board policies by supporting the three measures, which went down in defeat in November, after the board came out against them.
“Can we rely on you when representing this board?” Noonan asked pointedly.
Board policy states that once a position on an issue is reached, the board supports or opposes that position as a whole unit.
“Being on a committee, you are representing the board,” Noonan said.
Once a decision is reached, Barnes said, “We are all committed to be one.”
Noonan hammered home the point as she saw it “that a board member on a committee represents the board as a whole.”
Boggs publicly pledged her support of these policies, and said she will communicate committee discussions to all the other board members.
Noonan said she did not want to limit Boggs’ right or the right of any other board member to freely express opinions during debates. But she said that right ended once a matter was decided and stressed board unanimity: “Discussion is free and open until a decision is made.”
Boggs’ free speech rights were strongly defended by State Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, during the meeting’s public comment session. Kerr was one of about a dozen speakers who spoke in Boggs’ defense.
“The essence is, we felt Laura Boggs was censured unfairly,” he said, describing Stevenson’s letter that led to the censure as “unsubstantiated.”
“I want an elected official to be able to voice an opinion,” he said.
Other Boggs’ supporters chided board members for trying to intimidate her or stifle her views.
“I am a conservative and Mrs. Boggs represents me as a member of this board,” said Jim Powers, a Lakewood resident. “It concerns me that it appears, because of her stance and her conservative values … that the board is apparently trying to prevent her from representing me.”
Brad Stauffer, assistant executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the group doesn’t track how often censures of board members occur but that it’s pretty rare. Boggs’ censure was the first in the history of Jeffco, the state’s largest school district.
Stauffer also said individual boards do have the authority to strip members of committee seats or to deny them appointments.
Boggs has been a controversial member of the board since her 2009 election. She has been accused of entering a classroom, writing the word “stupid” and linking it with the word “school” on the board, according to a community group. And she inspired the formation of a “Boggs Watch” newsletter by the teachers’ union.
But it was her letter to Stevenson that led to her censure. In it, she states that Boggs threatened to expose “lies” by Stevenson and that the superintendent sought to “undermine board relationships.” Still, Stevenson wrote it was Boggs’ threat to “tear the county apart” that concerned her most.
As a result, Boggs was censured by a unanimous 4-0 vote at the Dec. 16 board meeting. Boggs was not allowed to vote on the measure since it concerned her.