CASTLE ROCK – Douglas County school board members on Tuesday night postponed consideration of a resolution that states former employees should not seek a seat on the board for at least a year after leaving the district.
The motion is generating criticism from those who see it as a direct attack on Susan Meek, the former district communications director who ran for school board in last month’s election, and on the rights of employees.
Brenda Smith, the president of the Douglas County teachers’ union who has largely stayed out of the district’s heated voucher battles, issued a news release condemning the proposed resolution.
“Not only is this abuse of power, it shows how misguided the work of the board has become,” Smith said. “Our district has been nationally recognized for collaboration on behalf of children, but the current board seems more focused on electioneering than the issues that will help all children in the Douglas County Schools at this critical time.
“Our members have focused on improving the education of our students for years, but this board is more concerned with making sure their position is secure.”
Meek, whose campaign criticized the board’s focus on vouchers during a budget crisis and who questioned the partisanship of Republican-backed board candidates, issued a letter to the community Tuesday that said board members “are looking to limit your personal liberty and quash the voice of the very people they oversee.”
Meek attended Tuesday night’s meeting but did not address the board after members announced they were delaying consideration of the resolution until January, after board president John Carson returns from vacation.
A board resolution is not legally enforceable and is instead considered a public statement, said Robert Ross, the district’s attorney. School boards across Colorado pass various resolutions each year to express their support for – or disapproval of – proposed laws or to weigh in on other topics.
Dougco’s school board, for example, is one of the few in the state to pass resolutions opposing the plaintiffs’ arguments in the Lobato school funding lawsuit.
Dan Gerken, the board’s vice president, said he does not remember when board members first discussed the proposed resolution, now dubbed the “anti-Susan Meek resolution” by some.
But he said it is part of an overhaul of board ethics and not an attack on any individual.
“We’re certainly not accusing Susan Meek of having done anything wrong,” Gerken said. Instead, he said, “I don’t think we want to have a person employed by the district who has one foot in the district and one foot in campaign mode.”
A proposed policy that would prevent board members from working for the district for one year after they leave the board also was delayed Tuesday night. The proposed policy, which would be enforceable if adopted, also would apply to a board member’s immediate family.
Meek was one of three candidates who sought to represent District A on the board. She eschewed political backing during her campaign and filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office questioning the Republican Party’s endorsement of three candidates, including one of her opponents, Craig Richardson, in the non-partisan race. Richardson won the seat.
When Meek left the district in March, months before she announced her candidacy, she was publicly praised by school board members at her last board meeting as a staff member. But words were considerably sharper during the campaign when Meek discussed her stance against vouchers.
“Former employees who choose to continue to serve the Douglas County schools, students and the community have every right to do so,” Meek said Tuesday in her letter to the community. “Employees and former employees have every right to have a voice and to be heard.”
Partial text of proposed board resolution on former district employees
- WHEREAS, the Board of Education acknowledges that the appearance of a “revolving door” between district employment and service on the Board of Directors undermines the public’s trust and confidence …
- WHEREAS, the Board of Education, in wanting to provide a “safe harbor” for former employee participation on the Board expresses itself now, outside of an election season, and nearly two years before the next election, by providing a normative guideline …
- THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest during periods of employment by employees later seeking to serve on the Board, and in order to provide the greatest level of trust, confidence and integrity in the decisions of the Board of Directors, the Board expresses its support for the proposition that, as a norm of ethical conduct, no employee should file with the Colorado Secretary of State a candidate affidavit indicating an intention to run for the Office of Director of the Board of Education for at least one year immediately after termination of the employee’s service to the district.
- BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if a district employee fails to comply with this normative expectation, the Board encourages opponents of any such former employee in any race for office of Director of the Board of Education to cite this resolution in future campaigns …
Text of proposed board policy on former board members
- “The District shall not consider an application for employment from any former director of the Board of Education or spouse or immediate family member living with such former director, within a period of one year immediately after termination of the director’s service on the board.
- “In addition, no former director of the Board of Education or spouse or immediate family member living with such former director shall receive compensation or fees for services directly from the district, or indirectly from a person or entity doing business with the district, within a period of one year immediately after termination of the of the director’s service on the board.”