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Haynes seeking ethics guidance on plans to hold DPS board seat while heading parks and rec

Happy Haynes (left) celebrates her 2011 election to the Denver school board with her sister Khadija.
Happy Haynes (left) celebrates her 2011 election to the Denver school board with her sister Khadija.

Allegra “Happy” Haynes is seeking guidance from the Denver Board of Ethics about her imminent plans to take over as executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department while continuing to serve as Denver school board president, Chalkbeat has confirmed.

Haynes requested an advisory opinion, which the city board will consider at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday morning, said Michael Henry, the ethics board’s executive director.

The board will likely advise Haynes on whether the dual roles might violate any section of the Denver code of ethics, and possibly provide restrictions or boundaries if she were to do both, he said.

The veteran civic leader is running for reelection for her at-large board seat, and her plans to juggle the two demanding roles are expected to emerge as a campaign issue.

Haynes said in an interview after the announcement she didn’t foresee any problems. She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Not one but two precedents exist involving a school board member heading the very same department.

In 2001, the city ethics board was in its earliest days when it issued an opinion setting boundaries for then board-member James Mejia after he was named parks and recreation director by then-Mayor Wellington Webb, Henry said. In 2008, Kevin Patterson was representing District 4 on the school board when he, too, became director of parks and recreation.

DPS’s history with parks and recreation has not been without controversy. A land swap between the school district and the city involving 11.5 acres of open space in southeast Denver was the target of a lawsuit brought by Friends of Denver Parks. A district court judge ruled in favor of the City and County of Denver last year, and a DPS-run elementary school opened this school year on the former park property.

Amber Miller, a spokeswoman for the city, said the ethics board opinion will help the city determine what, if any, guidelines are appropriate for Haynes to navigate the two roles.

“The mayor and the administration have no doubt that Happy will be able to give this position her all, as well as continue to dedicate her time to the DPS board,” Miller said.

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, a Denver-based watchdog group, said it is difficult to see how Haynes could serve in both roles given how frequently public schools use parks and recreation facilities. At the very least, he said, Haynes would have to delegate responsibilities to others when inevitable conflicts arise.

“Sometimes, they will get along fine,” Toro said of DPS and parks and recreation. “But there may be conflicts between the two over liability, or scheduling. That is the situation where it’s hard to see how she’d be able to to function wearing both hats because she’d be on both sides of the dispute.”

Toro credited Haynes — who draws no salary serving on the school board — for being proactive and seeking the advisory opinion.

Assistant city attorney David Broadwell declined comment Monday, citing the pending ethics board meeting.

Haynes gained a last-minute challenge for her board seat from Robert Speth, a relatively unknown northwest Denver parent active in schools issues who is running against what he describes as a rubber-stamp board.

Haynes has largely supported the reforms of DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s tenure.

Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Hancock named Haynes to replace Lauri Dannemiller, whom Hancock did not reappoint. Haynes, whose salary will be $139,293, is to begin the role Sept. 21. She is leaving her position with lobbying firm CRL Associates.

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