Perceived legal threat causes tension

Jefferson County Board of Education member seeks outside legal counsel

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Jeffco Board of Education Treasurer, Jill Fellman, announced she will be seeking outside legal counsel from David Foster, of the Foster and Graham law firm, after receiving what she believes is a legally threatening email.

The email was sent by the board's attorney Brad A. Miller to Fellman, the other board members, the district's Chief Operating Officer, Steve Bell, Chief Financial Officer, Lorie Gillis, and a representative from Caplan and Earnest, at noon on April 24. According to Fellman, it stated that if she did not listen to Miller's advice regarding executive sessions, she would be personally liable.

”His basic message was, if you don't listen to me and take my advice you could be individually liable,” Fellman said.

The email came after a 2-3 vote not go into an executive session in regards to an update about the impending mediation with the Jefferson County Educators Association (JCEA) following the declaration of the impasse.

To move into an executive session, the board must have four out of the five members voting in favor of the motion.

”We have counsel so we can get good advice,” Board President, Ken Witt said. ”It's critical that all board members share their responsibility to the district so we can properly direct the district in regards to negotiations with associations.”

According to Miller, the email was informative, reminding the board of its responsibilities to the community.

”It's incumbent on me to make sure the board is aware of its legal obligations and that the board is aware of its fiduciary duties,” Miller said.

In the past two board meetings where an executive session about JCEA mediation was on the agenda, Fellman and Second Vice President Lesley Dahlkemper voted against it, stating an update of information where no direction is given should be open to the public.

”I share Ms. Fellman's concerns,” Dahlkemper said. ” We have to be judicious about when we go into executive session and have a strong rationale to go into executive session. We have covered the bases we need to cover without going into executive session. An update on the next steps, a timeline — that can be open for the public to hear.”

According to the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, a public entity holds a sovereign immunity from personable liability in matters associated with their position, unless there is a willful and wanton disregard of duties or criminal activity executed by the entity.

The email sparked a concern among the board's minority in regards to Miller's privileges, responsibilities while detracting from the district's most important matter, students.

”The privilege is ours, not the attorney's, but he makes decisions on what's privileged and confidential,” Dahlkemper said. ”I think it's unfortunate as it takes us away from our No. 1 issue, which is kids and making sure they have the teachers and the best possible situation moving forward.”

Fellman is currently discussing her legal options with Foster, and will move forward by doing what is appropriate, best for the district and herself.

”For me, I would not do anything that would block negotiations," she said. ”My intent is to help and move the process forward, but at the same time, I need to take care of myself. To me, it's two streets.”

Comments

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JDWagner

Two Questions: What's the impact of formally declaring an impasse between the Jeffco School Board and JCEA? Do the parties go to arbitration and will the negotiations remain public? Second, in my personal experience dealing with elected entities such as County Commissioners and City Council in another state, these bodies routinely went into executive session without controversy. The public took these sessions to be advisory and deliberative but not a vehicle for conducting business or casting votes. Is it different in Colorado? Why the sudden outcry over the use of executive session? Did previous school boards use this tool and was there similar resistance then?

An Observation: Clearly the elected board is split and at odds. As a concerned, interested and educated parent with two students in Jeffco public schools, I'm increasingly frustrated over the lack of both background information on these issues and objective coverage of all the he said/she said drama surrounding this Board. I truly hope community media can be the voice of reason that drowns out the din & spin of social media. Keep at it; it's worth it.

Friday, May 2, 2014 | Report this
PFWAGNER

Real simple JD. The Board was very surprisingly taken over by conservatives in the last election who want to make real and meaningful change in Jeffco R1 schools, including actually holding teachers responsible for doing their jobs. The majority of the teachers, their union, and the two old in-their-pocket board members,Fellman and Dahlkemper,don't want to see it happen as they like the status quo, including automatic increases in pay as in the days of old.

The Union contract expires before the next Jeffco Board election so the union and all its supporters are throwing a hissy fit to get it renegotiated before it expires just in case the Board tells them to take a hike after it does expire, like what happened in Douglas County.

Follow the money.

Friday, May 9, 2014 | Report this
JFord1

JD, you are right about normal executive session. The new board has been misusing it to discuss material to prevent the public knowledge, sometimes excluding the two holdovers, in violation of the law, then coming in and taking a quick vote, without even having contracts available. They then continue to refuse public discussion that the public: parents, teachers and community members call for, which was supposed to be guaranteed by law. The info that is now public was obtained through open records requests. They are a conservative majority and that does have a variety of different groups upset, but I know many parents, myself included that were hopeful before he started cutting or attempting to cut STEM, full day kdg, and stating or insinuating that he wanted those options going to charter schools. The president is on record as saying that he does not have to honor previous contracts the previous board made b/c he didn't sign it. The evil teacher union PF mentioned took pay cuts and pay freezes since 2009, with the agreement that when the school board has some extra money, it would go to teacher pay increase. He just cut 4 million from the number that had been that place holder and allegedly gave no instruction to his negotiators, that his per the district negotiators in open negotiation. The board majority wants to discuss the contract instructions privately, the minority states if it is for open negotiations, it might as well be open all the way up, including their instructions. The teachers' union stated they will reenter public negotiations if the district puts a multi-year option on the table, they refused, thus why it is going to mediation. I probably way over-simplified this subject, but I am a parent, worried about losing my kids' teachers next year, not a direct link to the board or the union. I am a parent who is grateful that the teachers took pay cuts and think that after 5 years they definitely deserve at least a cost of living increase. I don't really care about unions, but that would be my lack of knowledge and therefore desire not to form an opinion based on my ignorance. I belong to a professional association and always assumed that JCEA was similar, but again assumptions, ignorance. I would recommend that you attend a board meeting and see for yourself, or go to Transparency Jeffco, and watch their videos. The site is definitely not for this current board, but the videos do show the members speaking for themselves, eliminating the he said, she said, so you can cut out the middle man and form your own opinion.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 | Report this
PFWAGNER

JFord1:

I never said "evil unions" so you are putting words in my mouth.

The "new board" isn't doing anything that much different than the "old board' was doing - especially when it comes to the union contract. The only real difference is that the teachers and union liked it back then and they don't like it now.

I'd have to check the old pay scales but dollars to doughnuts the teachers did not take an actual and real pay cut. They get step increase every year for just showing up to work. What they didn't get is a much of an across the board increase as they wanted. The terrible economy with declining real estate values with thousands of Jeffco taxpayers not only not getting any pay raises but getting cut back or losing their jobs had something to do with that.

The real underlying issue is that the union is paranoid the new board will tell the union to take a hike.

BTW, STEM has no business being "part of a school." Make the whole school a STEM school or create STEM charter schools where you like-minded parents can get the type of education YOU feel is best for your child.

Regardless, follow the money.

Monday, May 19, 2014 | Report this