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Transparency: What goes around comes around on Jeffco’s school board

Author: Dan Njegomir - January 4, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017

It’s getting to be an oddly familiar pattern:

  1. Elected governing body is accused of being secretive—hiding its meetings, records and even decisions from the general public—and is ousted in the next election by voters fed up with a lack of transparency.
  2. A new governing body is installed on the promise it will shed daylight on its proceedings and deliberations; that it will open its doors and its books to all citizens.
  3. Once in office, the new governing body hides its meetings, records and even its decisions from the general public…

And so it evidently has gone, more or less, at the Denver metro area’s Jeffco Public Schools, the second-largest school system in the entire state. A self-described reform slate had been elected to the Jeffco school board in 2013; for a variety of reasons including accusations of a lack of transparency, the three-member majority then was recalled by voters in 2015. The new members elected as replacements in the recall had demanded openness and accountability.

Today, a little over a year later, those members, too, stand accused of ducking public scrutiny of their ongoing efforts to fire the superintendent they had inherited from the previous board.

The development not only has raised concerns among open-government groups:

…but it also drew this stinging rebuke the other day from the Canyon Courier and its editor Doug Bell, vividly describing the covert ops undertaken by the district to conceal its strategy and impending actions:

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee … is about to quietly become totally transparent, despite the fact that our current school board members, most of whom campaigned on a platform of transparency in government, have yet to publicly discuss or vote on his ouster.

…McMinimee was hired by the three conservatives who were elected to the Jeffco school board in 2013, and who were promptly recalled in the November 2015 election. Few expected McMinimee to survive long with the again-liberal board, but I was hoping we wouldn’t once again have to run a story about a key community leader leaving without first reporting on a public discussion of the issue.

…While on the road for a conference, the board held a closed meeting to discuss the future of the superintendent, and then followed that with another closed session after returning from their weekend out of town.

Then, one day last week, the district announced in a news release that the board is set to vote Jan. 12 on whether to start a search for a new superintendent. And the district spokeswoman told our reporter that the board “basically is telling McMinimee they’re not going to extend his contract.”

As Bell puts it:

The script of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law is not filled with plot twists; it is, in fact, quite clear: All efforts should be made to do the public’s business in public. But here we are once again, wondering exactly how this leadership change was decided on without a public airing of the pros and cons.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.

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