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Signatures not sufficient in DPS recall

Denver elections officials announced Wednesday that there are not enough valid petition signatures to trigger a recall vote aimed at Denver Public Schools board president Nate Easley, a decision his detractors may challenge.

A letter from Denver Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley to recall organizer John McBride made public after 5 p.m. showed that recall supporters had submitted only 3,283 valid signatures, far short of the 5,363 needed to put the issue before voters.

The declaration of insufficiency came on the final day of a legally-mandated 10-day review period.

“What’s nice is, I don’t have to spend the next few months campaigning,” Easley said. “I can really spend the next few months figuring out how we heal.”

Or, perhaps, defending another recall.

“We’ll start all over again,” said McBride, though he didn’t say when. “This is our first time out. We’ll do much better, next time.”

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As for a possible challenge of the election officials’ findings, McBride said, “We’re talking about it tonight (Wednesday), and then we’ll make a decision.”

Advocates of Easley’s recall as the DPS board member representing Northeast Denver’s District 4 had turned in what they said were about 6,300 signatures on March 29.

However, O’Malley’s letter stated that they had actually submitted just 5,899, that 2,603 were rejected and that another 13 were excluded.

“Excluded” means there was no legal document on record to match the signature submitted while “rejected” means the signature belonged to someone who wasn’t a registered voter, lived outside the district or was insufficient for some other reason.

Easley: ‘This never was about me’

Easley’s detractors have criticized the first-term board member on a wide range of issues. But the primary complaint cited on the recall petitions alleged a conflict of interest posed by Easley’s dual roles as school board representative and deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Possible next steps
  • The finding of insufficient signatures triggers a 15-day “protest” period.
  • A city elections official said April 29 is the deadline for filing a protest.
  • A hearing must occur five to 10 days after a protest is filed.
  • A specially-appointed hearing officer or district court judge would preside at the hearing.
  • If the finding is reversed, and sufficient signatures found, a recall election date would likely be set for late June.

Easley contends that holding both positions poses no conflict. He was supported in that conclusion by an affidavit from DPS legal counsel.

“I think it’s good news for the district,” Easley said of O’Malley’s finding. “This never was about me. It’s about whether or not the city is willing to really take a look at what we’re doing to improve students’ outcomes, and make the kind of hard decisions we’re going to have to make, to make student achievement go up.”

Easley also released a prepared statement calling for parents, students and teachers in Denver’s Northeast community to “embrace the challenge of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that every child in Denver has the opportunity to attend a ‘great’ school.”

On the day the recall petitions were turned in to city elections officials, McBride told reporters, “We fully expect Nate’s political machine will do everything it can to render the signatures invalid.” He added, “It doesn’t matter. 6,000 people have already spoken.”

State law allows a 15-day window in which protests over Denver elections officials’ findings can be filed. Since weekends are counted in that window, that leaves April 29 as the deadline, said elections divisions spokesman Alton Dillard.

Colorado law on protests of sufficiency findings is “fairly wide open” on the grounds for which a protest can be based, Dillard said. Once notice of a protest is given to the parties involved, a hearing is set between five and 10 days later. All testimony is under oath and the sides can retain legal counsel to represent them.

“This statute makes a reference to (conducting it before) a district judge, but we think that our best practices would allow for just use of a neutral, outside hearing officer,” said Dillard.

The finding may be good news, financially, for DPS – the district would be responsible for the estimated $100,00 tab for an all-mail recall election.

Will focus shift to November elections?

Easley’s critics described themselves as a broad coalition and their complaints against him are numerous, going well beyond the alleged conflict of interest.

“This is our first time out. We’ll do much better, next time.”
— John McBride♦ ♦ ♦

“I’m going to celebrate by hanging out with my kids, so my wife can go to the PTA.”
— Nate Easley

A pivotal moment in Easley’s tenure came last November, when he was part of a 4-3 majority that set in motion a significant turnaround program for schools in his district.

The plan spells dramatic change for Montbello High School and the five schools that feed into it. More than 400 teachers and nearly 5,000 students were directly affected, and the upheaval remains controversial.

Although Easley’s vote approving the changes carried no more weight than those of board members Mary Seawell, Theresa Peña and Bruce Hoyt, who voted the same way, his position as the newly elected representative for District 4 put him squarely in the reform critics’ crosshairs.

Additionally, Easley had been criticized for an alleged lack of responsiveness to his constituents.

Many of Easley’s defenders, however, saw an alternative narrative at work in the bid to unseat him.

With Easley part of a 4-3 voting majority supportive of Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s reform agenda for DPS, his removal was seen by some as a way for Boasberg’s critics to flip that majority in their favor – and ultimately to remove Boasberg as the DPS chief.

Now, however, with the Easley recall dealt a potential death blow, attention may soon shift to the November general elections. At that time, three board seats will be up for grabs.

Seats to be contested this fall are the at-large position held by Peña and Hoyt’s slot representing Southeast Denver; both are term-limited. Arturo Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver, is concluding his first term and has announced he will seek re-election. Peña and Hoyt are seen as Boasberg allies, while Jimenez, the current board vice president, is not.

Asked if he planned any celebration of Wednesday’s development, Easley, whose children include a young son at Westerly Creek Elementary, said, “Yeah, I’m going to celebrate by hanging out with my kids, so my wife can go to the PTA.”