Ken Witt: Not Very Nice (or Smart)

A new story out of the scandal-plagued Jefferson County school board late last night, following an ugly exchange between the chairman of the new conservative majority Ken Witt and a Jeffco student representing the group Jefferson County Students for Change. A complaint filed by Jeffco parent Wendy McCord today recounts what happened:

Bullying is defined as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student.”

Witt made a defamatory statement regarding a District student, who is a minor, at the Meeting. He not only accused her of using racial epithets, he also directed district staff to post social media screenshots that identified the student by name. In addition, Witt said he refused to have anything to do with the organization that this student represents.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy that Witt won’t associate with students who essentially “liked” a Tweet but continues to sit next to (and serve on the Board with) a woman who posted material from an identified hate group encouraging parents to keep their children out of schools to protest a day designed to prevent bullying of LGBT students and staff, Witt’s statements were completely unacceptable.

Since the moment Witt, Newkirk and Williams took office, they have repeatedly embarrassed this District. They continue to degrade and demean not only our staff but, as evidenced in this circumstance, our students. These are the very stakeholders the Board and all district staff are supposed to protect.

In the video above, you can see minority board member Jill Fellman responding to the student, suggesting that the board use available time in a future meeting to have a conversation with the student group Jeffco Students for Change. Witt interrupts Fellman to accuse the leader of this group, who was one of the handful of people still in attendance at this meeting after midnight, of “favoriting…on Facebook er social media” (Witt is a little unclear about what kind of social media he is referring to) “racial epithets about district staff.” On the basis of this, Witt announces that he “will not have any association with this group.” It’s not seen in the video, but Witt directed to have a Tweet identifying the student in question projected on the large screen at the front of the room.

Readers will recall that the communications director for Jeffco schools, Lisa Pinto, has claimed she was racially insulted via Twitter over a post from an anonymous spoof account about “burritos” being served–in fact a reference to the meeting we helped publicize earlier this year between Witt and the conservative board chairs of several other Colorado school districts at Lakewood’s Jose O’Shea’s Mexican restaurant. This case of silly misplaced outrage formed the basis of a notably unsuccessful countermessage campaign from the Independence Institute, hoping to garner sympathy for Pinto–and shift attention away the ongoing PR disaster that is board member Julie Williams, or the district’s increasingly bad-faith contract negotiations.

It’s necessary to explain all of that in order to understand just how off-base Witt was in attacking this student and the student group represented. Once you understand this, Witt’s ridiculous bullying of a student he is charged with representing over merely “starring” something entirely inoffensive, projecting the student’s name for all to see in the board room and disparaging an entire group of Jeffco students over it…well folks, it’s pretty outrageous conduct. Not to mention, given the recent controversy over Williams’ sharing of a hate group’s call to defend discrimination, hypocritical in the extreme.

Which seems to be the rule these days on the Jeffco school board.

Martyred: Lesley Dahlkemper Will Not Run Again

Jefferson County Board of Education member Lesley Dahlkemper.

Jefferson County Board of Education member Lesley Dahlkemper.

Important news from Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat Colorado late SundayLesley Dahlkemper, one of the two members of the Jefferson County Board of Education’s embattled minority of non-conservative ideologues, will not run for re-election this year:

Lesley Dalhkemper, who makes up half of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education minority bloc, announced Sunday she won’t seek re-election in November…

“This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. [My husband] and I want to be fully present for her,” she said.

Dahlkemper also cited her work at the Colorado Education Initiative, an education nonprofit that works with schools and districts, as another reason why she won’t seek re-election.

Since the 2013 reconfiguration of the Jefferson County school board, Dahlkemper and her colleague Jill Fellman have become heroes to the teachers and parents who vocally oppose the board’s new conservative majority. Both women have been greeted with applause upon arriving at school board meetings.

It’s not been reported whether fellow minority board member Jill Fellman will run again for her seat, but Dahlkemper’s public policy experience made her the natural lead in the battles with the conservative board majority that have raged since their election in 2013. Dahlkemper’s stated reasons of wanting to help her child through middle school and work for the Colorado Education Initiative are above reproach, but we have to think that the stress of the new board majority running roughshod over other stakeholders in endless 3-2 votes–not to mention the numerous high-profile instances of major embarrassments committed by the board’s majority but attributed to the board as a whole–factored into her decision to not run again.

What does this mean for this year’s school board elections in Jefferson County, already shaping up to eclipse 2013 as the most contentious ever? That remains to be seen, but as the public’s understanding of the sorry state of affairs under the conservative board majority grows, there’s a scenario in which Dahlkemper’s decision to not run again becomes a rallying cry: to put a stop to these right-wing ideological flights of fancy in one of Colorado’s largest and best public school districts.

Because just like Lesley Dahlkemper deserved better, so do the kids.

Jeffco PTA Calls for Censure of Board Member Julie Williams

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Republican Julie Williams, Member of the Jefferson County School Board.

A few weeks ago, controversial Jefferson County School Board member Julie Williams upped her own ante on inappropriate behavior when she used social media accounts to promote efforts to oppose what she called “perverse indoctrination.” As we wrote on April 19:

The problem here is obvious to anyone who knows anything about Julie Williams, a close family member of the “Neville Nutters” clan of far-right Republican political figures. The reason Williams posted a fringe anti-LGBT hate group’s information about a walkout to counter the Day of Silence protests against bullying is simple: that’s where she gets her information from as a member of the far-right fringe. Although some of the worst examples have reportedly been purged along with this latest post, Williams’ Facebook page has lots of examples of the kind of fringy “wisdom” that we have every reason to assume informs her votes on the school board.

As for not having read the link she posted, that would have to be so literally true–the very first sentence contains the words “perverse indoctrination”–that it’s difficult to believe. It’s a much more likely scenario to us that one of the aforementioned press flacks had to explain to Ms. Williams how “perverse indoctrination” is not an acceptable way for a board member to refer to a district-sanctioned event against bullying LGBT students.

This did not go over well, obviously. In a letter sent today to the Jefferson County School Board, Michelle Patterson, President of the Jefferson County Council PTA, asks the school board to take the step of a formal censure of Williams:

If this were the first time we had seen this sort of careless thought and behavior from Ms. Williams, this community might be more forgiving, but it is not. In light of this, Jeffco PTA’s Board of Directors requests the topic of a formal censure of Julie Williams be added to the May 7 meeting agenda. [Pols emphasis] With a vote to censure Ms. Williams, this school board can send Jefferson County a strong message. The message must be that you stand with EVERY student, regardless of race, religion, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation and against intolerance of any kind.

You can read the full letter here (PDF: PTA-JulieWilliams-Censure) or check the full text after the jump.

(more…)

There’s just gotta be better ways to advance the conservative agenda on talk radio than holding the hand of Lisa Pinto

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Schools Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

One wonders if the GOP’s Leadership of the Rockies Program, which schooled GOP operative Lisa Pinto, needs to add a class on how to gracefully ignore anonymous tweets.

In her job as Chief Communications Officer for the Jefferson Country  School District, Pinto has massively more important problems on her plate than complaining about tweets directed at her. Yet, she’s wasting time on conservative talk radio whining about her tweets.

You’d any right-leaning talk radio program, normally home base for the get-over-it approach to personal problems, would boot her off the show, but KNUS host Krista Kafer wrapped Pinto in a warm blanket, introducing a April 3 segment on the tweets:

Kafer: “So there are these people out there. I don’t know. Do they not work? Do they not have a hobby? Do they not garden? I don’t know, but apparently they have a lot of extra time just to be mean. I guess being mean is a hobby.”

This opened the floodgates from Pinto, who emphasized that she took time on vacation to discuss the tweets on KNUS 710 AM, not on the taxpayer dime. (Listen below.)

“Thanks for taking up this really important topic,” Pinto told Kafer. “It’s really crazy that this is going on in this day an age in Colorado.”

Really important? Crazy in this day and age?  She’s a communications pro? Maybe she’s under the spell of the Independence Institute, which found recent tweets about Jeffco-School topics so important that it established a website, MeanGirlz.org, to promote them. Read more about this in Westword.

Anyway, Pinto went on for the next 20 minutes or so, making me wonder if she knew anything at all about the content of Twitter.

(more…)

Jon Caldara Pitches “Dougco-Style” Jeffco Schools Takeover

UPDATE: Jon Caldara responds via Twitter:

And there you have it, folks…

—–

Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara.

We were forwarded scanned copies today of a lengthy letter from the right-wing Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, soliciting funds from members to wage war against “the teachers unions and their Leftist allies in Jefferson County.” We’ve posted all eight pages of Caldara’s letter below (click to pull up high resolution scans)–safe to say that this letter was not intended for consumption outside a very conservative audience, as the stated goals of Caldara’s campaign are distantly out of the mainstream.

For one thing, the “libertarian” Caldara launches into a defense of last year’s controversial AP History curriculum review proposal that would make Julie Williams blush:

caldarajeffcoaphis

That “the union” staged last year’s enormous student protests will come as a surprise to the students who actually organized them, and who explained to everyone who would listen that they were outraged by Williams’ AP History “review” proposal without anyone’s help. It’s worth noting that Caldara is aligned with Republican politicians who sent out mailers last year using doctored photos of student protesters to imply their support–even though the students were protesting against the GOP-dominated school board’s actions. Republican politicians who benefited from those mailers include Tim Neville, the brother-in-law of board member Julie Williams.

And again, isn’t Caldara supposed to be a “libertarian?” Don’t libertarians respect questioning authority in the classroom? We can only assume that Caldara wasn’t writing for a libertarian audience.

Here’s another tidbit that won’t sit well in swing Jefferson County. Ever since taking control of the school board in 2013, the new conservative majority has insisted that they were not modeling their agenda on Douglas County, the arch-conservative stronghold presently mired in a lawsuit over religious school vouchers, and which has seen considerable turnover of teachers and staff since a right-wing activist school board started enacting sweeping changes. Well folks, don’t tell that to Jon Caldara:

caldaradougco

caldaradougco2

We’d say their cover is pretty well blown at this point, but in case you needed more proof, here you go.

You can read Caldara’s angry screed in its entirety after the jump–click on the images to pull up full-resolution versions. And next time somebody tells you that there isn’t a right-wing ideological plot afoot to radically alter one of Colorado’s best-performing public school districts, show them this letter.

Because apparently there is.

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Jeffco School Board’s Julie Williams Promotes Student Walk Out Against “Perverse Indoctrination”

SUNDAY UPDATE #2: Embattled Jeffco school board member Julie Williams does have someone in her corner–Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt:

chapswilliams2

Something tells us this is not the kind of backup Williams’ press handlers are looking for…

—–

SUNDAY UPDATE: It’s possible that not even the army of Republican media flacks now working for the Jefferson County Board of Education’s conservative majority can save board member Julie Williams now, as her preposterous excuses for posting a link to an anti-LGBT hate group help drive the expanding story–9NEWS’ Jonathan Gonzales reports:

After 9NEWS received numerous complaints from some students, parents and teachers, board member Julie Williams said she was simply trying to inform parents who had been asking her for more information about the protest, which is known as the “Day of Silence.”

“I posted it as information because I believe parents have the right to know what’s happening in our schools, and then it’s up to a parent whether they want to opt in or out,” [Pols emphasis] Williams told 9NEWS. “Should’ve read it before I posted it. I mean I did make a serious mistake there with that.”

And FOX31’s Kent Erdahl:

The “Day of Silence” is a silent protest conducted by students across the country each year, designed to raise awareness of bullying, especially involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

“Seven out of 10 gay and lesbian students experience harassment just because of who they are,” said Dave Montez, with One Colorado. [Pols emphasis]

Jeffco board member Julie Williams says when several parents asked her about the Day of Silence last week, she didn’t know what to tell them…

The problem here is obvious to anyone who knows anything about Julie Williams, a close family member of the “Neville Nutters” clan of far-right Republican political figures. The reason Williams posted a fringe anti-LGBT hate group’s information about a walkout to counter the Day of Silence protests against bullying is simple: that’s where she gets her information from as a member of the far-right fringe. Although some of the worst examples have reportedly been purged along with this latest post, Williams’ Facebook page has lots of examples of the kind of fringy “wisdom” that we have every reason to assume informs her votes on the school board.

As for not having read the link she posted, that would have to be so literally true–the very first sentence contains the words “perverse indoctrination”–that it’s difficult to believe. It’s a much more likely scenario to us that one of the aforementioned press flacks had to explain to Ms. Williams how “perverse indoctrination” is not an acceptable way for a board member to refer to a district-sanctioned event against bullying LGBT students.

And we’d say that speaks for itself. Original post follows.

—–

UPDATE: Via Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia, full retreat:

Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams said late Friday that she was “sincerely sorry” and that she would remove a link on her personal Facebook page that she shared that encouraged families to keep their students home Friday and “away from perverse indoctrination” of the“homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t read the article,” Williams said. “I just saw it and thought I was sharing information with parents.” [Pols emphasis]

…SaveCalifornia.com describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.

…Williams’ post, first revealed Friday afternoon by the political blog ColoradoPols.com, will likely provide grist for her critics. [Pols emphasis]

Yes, that seems likely. Original post follows…

—–

doswalkout

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

A Facebook post from Jefferson County School Board member Julie Williams, who gained infamy last year as the main proponent of a politically biased “review” of AP U.S. History that led to massive protests by students, is promoting…well, a walk out by students–but not for the same reasons that Jeffco students had last fall. From the link she shared:

If you have children in K-12 government schools, in California or another state, please keep them home and away from perverse indoctrination on Friday, April 17.

That’s the day of the so-called “Day of Silence,” where sexually confused students and teachers refuse to speak during the entire academic day. They’ll indoctrinate everybody else through handouts and chalkboard writings and videos and other propaganda tools. They’ll teach children to support and embrace the unnatural and unhealthy homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda and will label anyone who’s against it a “bigot,” a “hater,” or worse…

[N]o matter what, please keep your children home on April 17, to express your strong disapproval of the pro-perversity state school bureaucracy. Your children’s hearts and minds matter!

Today marks the annual Day of Silence, a protest originally organized by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and carried out autonomously by students and faculty nationwide to raise awareness about bullying and violence against LGBT students. The event is opposed by the organization that sent out the above action alert, the Campaign for Children and Families, which has been heavily involved in the battle against marriage equality in California and elsewhere.

Now, given the umbrage Williams took with students who walked out in protest against reviewing the district’s history curriculum to ensure it “promotes patriotism,” isn’t it hypocritical to encourage students to stay out of school to protest the LGBT Day of Silence? That’s the question we ask before the real question, which is how Williams can conscionably promote this hateful vitriol against “perverse” students she is charged with representing as a member of the school board.

Unfortunately, we already know the answer to the second question. She got elected.

GOP Chairman Withdraws From Jeffco Schools Event

Colorado GOP chairman Steve House.

Colorado GOP chairman Steve House.

A mini-uprising from Jefferson County parents appears to have scuttled another attempt by the conservative Jeffco school board majority to inject partisan politics into the work of Colorado’s biggest public school district. Here’s the text of a letter we were forwarded from a Jeffco parent to the board, questioning an upcoming appearance by new Colorado GOP chairman Steve House at an upcoming board retreat:

Dear John, Julie and Ken,

I just received the email from Helen Neal with the link to the agenda for the Board Retreat next Thursday. I am disheartened and disappointed that Steve House remains on your Retreat Guest Panel on Innovative/Creative Practices in Public Education. On the agenda, Mr. House is listed as the Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. I see nothing that would even remotely connect him to education in his professional role. I even looked over his profile on LinkedIn…nowhere in his “experience” does his list anything even remotely connected to education. Nor does education appear in the 50 skills he has listed.

Could you please explain to me (and the myriad other taxpayers who are concerned at this line-up of “innovation experts”) what Steve House has to do with education innovation? Why are you wasting taxpayer time and money on this farce? Consider the district staff who must attend your meetings. Why are you wasting their time? From what I can tell, I have more education expertise than Mr. House. What I don’t have, however, is a “certificate” from the Leadership Program of the Rockies. It seems that’s all it takes to make it in Jeffco these days. From our communications director to a guest panel on education innovation – educational expertise is no longer required to guide our school district, just participating in a right-wing organization one of whose main goals is to destroy public education.

We live in an amazing county, state and country – surely there are ACTUAL experts on education innovation that could provide useful information to the Board of Ed and the district. Mr. House has no credentials to be participating in the panel, and the three of you, in supporting his participation, are an embarrassment to public education. For people who rely so heavily on data, I can see none to support his role on the panel.

I strongly urge you to remove him from the panel on education innovation – his participation makes a mockery of the Board of Ed of Jeffco.

We’re not privy to whatever discussion that took place between the receipt of this letter by the conservative Jeffco board and now, but the board’s agenda for the upcoming retreat in question has changed as of today:

Subject: Retreat: Guest Panel on Innovative/Creative Practices in Public Education (EL-11)
Type: Discussion

estimated time: 7:30 p.m. (estimated duration: 2 hours)

PRESENTING STAFF:
Tony Lewis, executive director, Donnell-Kay Foundation
Scott Fast, parent, Columbine High School, retired executive director, Accenture Foundation
Steve House, chairman, Colorado Republican Party withdrew [Pols emphasis]

So much for that! The only thing that remains is for an intrepid reporter to ask two questions: why House withdrew, and for what reasons the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party was picked for this “retreat” to begin with.

You know, beyond the obvious reasons that have nothing to do with education.

Libby Szabo Makes Jeffco Taxpayers Buy Her a New Car So She Can Reach the Pedals

Libby Szabo Gets a New Car

Jeffco Commissioner Libby Szabo (not actual size).

When Republican Libby Szabo announced in January that she would resign from the State House in order to fill a vacancy on the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, she was roundly criticized; the editorial board of the Denver Post said Szabo was “thumbing her nose at voters” by resigning her seat just two months after winning re-election to a third term in the House.

If Szabo’s job-hopping was “thumbing her nose” at voters, then she has since moved along to the middle finger. Szabo is now driving around in a brand-new, $40,000 car that was purchased specifically for her transportation needs as a county commissioner. Jefferson County Commissioners are technically allowed to request the use of a county-owned vehicle, but the other two Commissioners (Don Rosier and Casey Tighe) choose to drive their own personal cars rather than accept the kind of ridiculous perk that used to be common in scandal-ridden Jefferson County (former County Treasurer Mark Paschall, who was indicted over corruption allegations, once demanded that the county buy him a Cadillac Escalade).

It may be an oxymoron to call any Ford Taurus “top-of-the-line,” but county officials nevertheless sprung for the most expensive model because of an odd request from Szabo: She needed a car with “special pedals” because she is too short to drive a regular model.

No, seriously. We couldn’t possibly invent a story this absurd.

Jefferson County bought a new Ford Taurus SHO for Commissioner Libby Szabo.

Jefferson County bought a new Ford Taurus SHO for Commissioner Libby Szabo and billed taxpayers the $40,000.

Szabo is indeed a fairly short individual, but for years she drove her own vehicle back and forth from Arvada to the State Capitol in Denver. Maybe Szabo’s personal vehicle needed replacing, but you’d think she could find enough money in her $86,000 salary to buy her own car. Szabo no doubt understands the poor optics behind this request, because Jeffco purchased the Szabo-mobile two weeks before the County Commissioners voted to approve the expenditure (the invoice from Larry H. Miller Ford Lakewood is dated March 16; the expenditure was not formally approved by the Commissioners until March 26).

If you’re still inclined to shrug this off, we’ll leave you with the opening lines of this Denver Post story from reporter Joe Vaccarelli, which was first published just a few days before the county purchased Szabo’s new vehicle.

Libby Szabo always tries to lead by example.

Whether wanting to get a message across to her four kids, coaching youth soccer for 10 years or working across the aisle on a bill in the state legislature, she feels that actions speak louder than words.

“I think the best way to instill something in your children is to actually do it and let them see you do it,” Szabo said.

Indeed.

Jeffco School Board Media Flacks Doth Protest Too Much

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

We talked last month about a GOP-aligned media relations shop, Novitas Communications, that was hired by the Jefferson County Board of Education’s new communications director Lisa Pinto–herself a longtime Republican political operative. Novitas’ contract to “shift” coverage of the controversial board majority to positive from the more or less unbroken string of disastrous press the district’s conservative majority has earned since taking office is a tall order, but we’ve been watching since this announcement for signs of Novitas and their conservative usual suspect friends swinging into action.

This week, we began to see the conservative media counterstrategy on behalf of the Jeffco school board take shape. Conservative blog Complete Colorado teamed up with the Independence Institute to hit back against the army of critics of the Jeffco school board majority on social media:

Parents, students, and teachers upset with the Jefferson County Public School District Board of Education majority members and select district staff continue to use social media to get their frustrations out.

However, some of those targeted by anonymous Twitter handles call their messages rude, intimidating, unflattering, and just plain mean at times.

And it appears the @notlisapinto, @notjohnnewkirk, @notdanmcminimee, @notkenwitt and @notjuliejeffco accounts are being operated with the blessing of the Colorado teachers union top official and the two top officials for the Jefferson County Parent Teacher Association – despite those organizations touting their goals as student-based and continually denouncing bullying through the #standup4kids Twitter hash tag.

Lisa Pinto, chief communications officer for Jeffco, said the Tweets about her are hurtful and judgmental. Because Pinto is not an elected official, those posting to her site could be held liable for the remarks…

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

First of all, there’s no question that Twitter has not been very good for the conservative Jefferson County school board majority. Last fall, the board’s proposal to “review” the district’s AP history curriculum to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority” became a worldwide news story largely because of the Twitter hashtag #jeffcoschoolboardhistory–which went viral with literally thousands of satirical Tweets lampooning Julie Williams and the proposal generally. Another Twitter hashtag, #standup4kids, is a major communications hub for opponents attending Jeffco board meetings.

So yeah, the Jeffco school board majority probably aren’t big fans of Twitter.

Hoping to garner sympathy for the board majority and discredit intense criticism on Twitter, the Independence Institute put up a low-quality website aggregating Tweets from some of these pseudonymous accounts. In the Complete Colorado post, there are allegations of racially charged Tweets against Pinto, who is Hispanic, but we haven’t seen that proven–or even clearly alleged which of the many Twitter accounts involved in discussion of the Jeffco school board might be responsible. The examples of “mean Tweets” posted to the Independence Institute’s Mean Girlz site aren’t anything close to that level of offense, and we assume if bonafide examples of racial harassment existed they would be front and center. Certainly anonymous Tweets can be meanspirited, but attempting to discredit real people simply because they “Re-Tweeted” something is asinine. And as for the notion that these accounts are operating “with the blessing” of the PTA or anyone else? Based on the Complete Colorado blog post, that appears to be totally baseless conjecture at best, and possibly downright libelous.

Bottom line: whining about treatment on social media doesn’t make the conservative Jeffco school board majority or their army of paid media flacks look good. Twitter is just one venue in which damaging information about the board majority’s actions flows freely to the public, and overwhelmingly, the content speaks for itself. If the board’s media flacks want to respond, the way to do that is factually–not by complaining about meanie anonymous Twitter trolls and playing silly guilt-by-association games.

Another Contentious Jeffco School Board Meeting Tonight

When you're done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

When you’re done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

The always contentious Jefferson County School Board convenes again tonight to discuss their plan to make major changes to several schools in the Wheat Ridge/Arvada area.

Earlier this week, YourHub reporter Josie Klemaier took a look at the latest controversy regarding the unpredictable school board:

The Jefferson County Public Schools board proposed at its March 5 meeting that Manning, an option school, take over the Everitt Middle School building in Wheat Ridge, which would allow Maple Grove Elementary to expand into Manning’s building at 13200 W. 32nd Ave. Maple Grove is currently at 3085 Alkire St…

…While some members of the board see this as an opportunity to expand the schools’ successful programs, parents and administrators are worried it will muddy the close relationship the Applewood neighborhood has with the two schools.

“Our students would be attending an elementary that is larger than most middle schools and some high schools,” said Ali Lasell, who has two children at Maple Grove and said she and her husband moved to Applewood in part for the schools. “We would have some very serious conversations in my house about whether we will continue in Maple Grove or not.” [Pols emphasis]

Maple Grove Elementary School has long been one of the strongest K-6 schools in Jefferson County. The right-wing Jeffco School Board likes that Maple Grove, so their solution is to just keep adding more and more students to the good school. Brilliant!

The action kicks off tonight at 5:30 pm at the Jefferson County Administration Building.

 

Jeffco School Board Snaps Up GOP Media Consultants

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

We talked just over a month ago about the hiring by Jefferson County Public Schools of one Lisa Pinto, a right-wing Leadership Program of the Rockies graduate and former board member of the embattled Colorado Republican independent expenditure committee, as the new Chief Communications Officer of the district. Pinto appears to have been hired due to her political affiliations, as she was apparently rejected by a number of people involved in the hiring process as unqualified–yet somehow in the end deserving of a higher salary than her more qualified predecessor. We've heard that unflattering information about the process that led to Pinto's hiring by the district may shortly be disclosed, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Jefferson County School Board Watch reported last month that Pinto is getting some extra reinforcements on the public-relations front, having hired a usual-suspect Republican aligned communications firm Novitas Communications to…well, it seems like they were more or less hired to do Pinto's job:

a) Set measureable objectives against which Novitas and the District Communications
Department efforts can be evaluated. For example, if the mix of media coverage of the district is 50% negative and 50% positive, work toward shifting that percentage to 25% negative and 75% positive.

b) Evaluate objectives’ metrics regularly and help the District Communications Department shift strategies and tactics to keep the department on track to meeting its objectives.

c) Develop strategies to address hot-button or controversial issues to ensure that District constituencies (e.g., parents, teachers, community leaders) are engaged and empowered in District decisions, and to ensure that the District is driving the narrative on these issues.

d) With District staff, develop core messaging for the District as well as on controversial issues that will help ensure spokespersons and staff are unified in their communications to District stakeholders.

e) Develop/enhance a crisis communications plan for rapid response action, as needed…

You know, the stuff Chief Communications Officers are supposed to do!

And here's the "ah-ha" reveal: Novitas Communications is run by Michelle Balch Lyng, a longtime Republican operative and former head of the Denver Republican Party–the same urban Republican social circle as Pinto herself. Lyng's staff includes Devan Crean, the Republican "tracker" who got embarrassingly mixed up in the state GOP chairmanship election battle early last month. You'll recall what Crean said about her work then:

The organization Ellie and I both work for ONLY tracks politicians and policy makers who are left-leaning. We DO NOT track fellow Republicans…

We haven't heard if Ms. Crean still works for Revealing Politics after that little fiasco, but we assume her Republican loyalties remain firmly intact. Given Pinto's background, we expect none of this will trouble her.

The obvious question is, why does the district have a need for so many conservative PR consultants? And that's an easy answer: in addition to having repeatedly stepped into controversy over such things as the conservative school board majority's ill-fated AP history "review" proposal, negotiations with the district's teachers on a new contract are about to get underway. A preliminary meeting just last night began to set the timetable for those negotiations. Following the antics of the Republican school board majority up to this point, fears that they will not enter negotiations with teachers in anything resembling good faith are well-founded. One need only look at Douglas County to see the worst-case scenario.

If these negotiations get ugly, the district's new army of GOP media flacks is going to be very busy indeed.

Republicans Already Plotting Laura Woods Replacement?

uncommittedwoods1

One of the closest Republican victories in the 2014 elections in Colorado was the extremely narrow win by Sen. Laura Waters Woods over appointed Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger in SD-19. By fewer that 700 votes, Woods ousted the former Arvada councilwoman appointed to replace Sen. Evie Hudak, who resigned rather than face a recall campaign principally organized by Woods.

Even after Hudak's resignation, Woods did not have a clear path to the GOP SD-19 nomination. Concerned about Woods' long-term viability for holding this critical swing seat, establishment Republicans fought hard to defeat Woods and put Lang Sias in this seat. Sias lost out to Woods in the SD-19 primary after Rocky Mountain Gun Owners rallied its supporters behind Woods' campaign.

Sias finally won an appointment to the Colorado House in overlapping HD-27 this year, but from what we've heard, Republicans are still very concerned that Woods will be unable to hold the SD-19 seat against a strong Democratic challenge. Even though Woods won in last year's election, she doesn't get a full Senate term before running again: in order to realign this seat with its usual election interval, Woods will be back up for election next year.

Assuming she makes it that far. Sources tell us that Woods is being watched very closely by Republican minders this year in the Senate, and is on a short list of potential GOP establishment primary targets in 2016. Because this seat is considered pivotal to control of the Senate by both parties, there is no margin for error: and Woods by most accounts hasn't impressed upper-echelon Republicans who will map their playing field next year.

woodsmailer2

During last year's primary, one of the major attacks on Woods from fellow Republicans pertained to her "retirement" in the 1990s, claiming disability for carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, we certainly aren't going to speculate on whether or not Sen. Woods was legtimately disabled by carpal tunnel syndrome, but she does note on her website that her disability was positive insofar as she was able to raise her children at home. As you can see in the mailer above, fellow Republicans used her description of her condition to raise questions about Woods "contributing to the growing epidemic of disability fraud."

If that sounds thin to you, bear in mind that you're not the target audience–Republican primary voters in SD-19 are. And don't get us wrong, depending on how Sen. Woods acquits herself in the next few months, Democrats may prefer she be the general election candidate. Either way, if Republican brass does decide to pull the proverbial trigger on Woods, this disability business will just be the opening salvo.

Stay tuned–control of the Colorado Senate may well hinge on what happens here.

Jeffco School Board Revises Own History, Drops Plans for AP Course Review

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Well, that sure took them long enough. Perhaps Julie Williams and the rest of the conservative Jeffco School Board finally got around to reading those History textbooks after all. From TPM:

BREAKING: Lang Sias Finally Wins An Election (Sort Of)

UPDATE: It's worth taking a moment to acknowledge the long-sought triumph Lang Sias' appointment to the Colorado House represents for his high ranking GOP kingpin supporters, who have been trying to get Sias into office–any office–for several years. Sias lost the 2010 7th Congressional District primary to Ryan Frazier, who went on to be pummeled by Ed Perlmutter. Sias then lost two successive bid for an Arvada state senate seat, one to Democrat Evie Hudak and the other last year to now highly targeted Sen. Laura Waters Woods. One consequence of Sias' appointment to HD-27 is that Waters Woods is now operating without a net–if she melts down at the Capitol as many expect before going up again for election in 2016, Sias is already busy holding down this House seat.

But for today, it's enough to celebrate along with what's affectionately known in some circles as the "Sias Zombies." After years of rejection by the voters, they've finally found a way to get Lang Sias into the club.

Treehouse-of-Horror-XXIV-Couch-Gag-by-Guillermo-del-Toro-3

"Must…elect…LANG!"

—–

Lang Sias (before and after).

Lang Sias (before and after).

As the Denver Post reports, three-peat election loser Lang Sias has finally won a ticket to the Colorado General Assembly, appointed today to the HD-27 seat being vacated by Libby Szabo. Szabo was herself appointed to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners to replace "serial office jumper" Faye Griffin, setting the whole game of musical chairs in motion:

Former Top Gun pilot Lang Sias has finally won an election after a vacancy committee on Saturday elected him to former Rep. Libby Szabo's seat in the state House.

"I'm very excited and humbled — and hoping to stay that way," he said.

The 14-member committee selected Sias over mortgage banker Christine Jensen. The vote count was not announced.

Says Lang Sias,

"I've taken my poundings, that's for sure," Sias said. "I finally found an election where I could actually speak to every voter." [Pols emphasis]

Congratulations Rep. Sias, and may all your elections be decided by fourteen voters.

That's unlikely, of course.

Jeffco School District Hires New Communications Head…After Committee Deemed Her “Unqualified”

Dan McMinimee

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee hired a new Chief Communications Officer despite warnings from a hiring committee that she was unqualified.

Local blogger and author Paula Reed has the scuttlebutt on yet another ridiculous decision made by Jefferson County Schools Superintedent Dan McMinimee. As she writes in a post titled, "Our New Chief Propaganda Officer":

Lynn Setzer, JeffCo’s Chief Communications Officer, left JeffCo last November.  As has been the process, an interview team of staff members assembled to bring forward a list of qualified candidates to replace her.  JeffCo’s superintendent ignored all of their recommendations and went for a candidate whom the interview committee had deemed unqualified.  She did not go to public school, sends her kids to private school, and has no experience in communications for any public school system.  In fact, two of the five board members questioned hiring her.  They, too, were ignored, and she was hired for more money than her experienced predecessor. [Pols emphasis]

Kind of like this superintendent, hired despite his lack of experience and despite the legitimate questions of two of the five board members and paid more than his far more experienced, far more educated predecessor.

What made our new Chief Communications Officer, Lisa Pinto, so attractive to this superintendent and board majority?  She is a graduate of the distinctly political Leadership Program of the Rockies, a tea-party-run organization with an explicit political agenda and to which two of the board majority are tied.  In short, they now get to use taxpayer money to publicize their agenda.

Yowzers. Jefferson County Schools hired a new Chief Communications Officer that the interview committee had deemed unqualified…and not only that, but they hired someone who hails from the "Leadership Program of the Rockies," an organization founded by a longtime vouchers advocate: former Congressman Bob Schaffer.

Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge if a new hiring decision is purely political, but in this case? Not so much. As Reed points out, Lisa Pinto's problems with English and grammar were front-and-center in the latest issue of "Chalk Talk," the parent newsletter created by the Jeffco Schools' communications office. This is an actual paragraph reportedly written by someone with the title of "Chief Communications Officer":

“Students, teachers, parents, administrators, President John Ford of the Jefferson County Educators’ Association and community members have all expressed concern that students are being over assessed and that the number of assessments and time required by state standardized tests has become excessive. On Thursday, Jan. 15,  your school board voted 3 (for) -1(against)-1 (abstained) (with Mr. Witt, Newkirk and Ms. Williams voting in favor) to request waivers from the State Board of Education from the Performance Based PARCC assessments.”

It's not too difficult to see why a hiring committee might have suggested that Pinto was "unqualified."

Old, New Names Floated To Replace Libby Szabo

Lang Sias and the vanishing Tea Party endorsement.

Lang Sias and the vanishing Tea Party endorsement.

With newly appointed Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo's resignation from the Colorado House taking effect at the end of the month, Republicans in House District 27–and, of course, Republican kingmakers in their respective high places–are hard at work sorting through the prospective candidates to replace her. The word is there is a pretty good mix of candidates in the running for this seat, but we'll focus today on a by-no-means comprehensive list of four contenders we've been advised to watch:

1. Lang Sias. That's right, folks, "the Republican Democrats fear," or at least that how his story went before he lost three consecutive bids for elective office, is in the hunt for this appointment to the Colorado House. What we've heard, though, is that Sias is doubly tainted by his loss to Laura Waters Woods last year in SD-19–both by having lost in that primary and by being branded a moderate "squish" by his hard-right opponent in the process. By all accounts this is a very conservative vacancy committee, which at this point puts Sias at a real disadvantage.

2. Christine Jensen, a mortgage broker who ran for Arvada city council in 2007. We know less about her, except that she is popular among Arvada Republicans, and is a strident religious conservative in the similar mold of Szabo. Based on our limited information, this is a candidate who could prove favorable to both this vacancy committee…and, looking ahead, Democrats (if you know what we mean).

Larry Queen. Wazzap!

Larry Queen. Wazzap!

3. Larry Queen, the failed SD-20 GOP candidate last year running against Sen. Cheri Jahn. Pulling in Queen's favor is the close race he ran against Jahn, losing by fewer than 500 votes in the final tally. But under the surface of that close win, there was chatter about an inept campaign that could have, and should have say his detractors, been able to close the gap in a heavily targeted GOP pickup attempt.

4. John Bodnar, the more-or-less placeholder Republican candidate for the HD-27 seat in 2008 against Democrat Sara Gagliardi. Bodnar was one of a number of low-profile losing GOP candidates in 2008, who didn't raise much money, didn't have any public profile, and went down to defeat quietly, but he has been active in Republican Party politics in the district.

Like we said, this is not a comprehensive list, and other names could yet emerge before the HD-27 vacancy committee makes its decision next weekend. We'll update as and if we learn about new developments. Since playing musical chairs with appointments suits Jefferson County Republicans much better than letting those pesky voters decide on their representation, our coverage is as close to this process as even most citizens of HD-27 will get.

Jeffco Residents Demand School Board Majority’s Resignation

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Gabrielle Porter of the Canyon Courier reports:

A petition signed by 6,554 Jeffco residents calling for school board President Ken Witt and board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams to resign caused a stir at the board’s meeting on Thursday evening.

Jeffco parent and petition organizer Molly Snyder told board members she is not affiliated with the teachers union, the Jefferson County Education Association. 

When Snyder presented the box of petitions during the meeting’s public comment segment, she alleged that the board’s conservative majority had broken public trust, wasted district money, violated the state’s open-meetings law, and misrepresented district schools and students in public discussions.

After last year's explosive battle over the conservative Jefferson County school board majority's politically stilted "review" of the district's AP history curriculum, there's been a bit of a lull in the action as the students, parents, and teachers involved regrouped. We've heard that, among other things, the photo taken by the Jefferson County Education Association's spokesman of board president Ken Witt with a group of fellow right wing school board presidents we posted last week has helped fire up the opposition again–a reminder that what is happening in Jefferson County is part of a larger agenda playing out in school districts across the state.

With that said, it will take more than a petition to dislodge Witt and fellow conservative board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams:

Newkirk said he would not step down until student achievement goals were met, and challenged Snyder to ask the petition signers to help meet those goals by volunteering in local schools. 

“When every child and every parent in Jefferson County has their first choice, whether it be in a school, charter school, option school, online school or otherwise — no more waiting lists — when there’s no achievement gap between our minority students and non-minority students, and, finally, when Jeffco becomes the nation’s leader in academic achievement, then I’ll step down, because my work here will be done,” Newkirk said. 

During his speech, nearly half the restive audience — largely made up of people in blue JCEA shirts — stood and turned their backs on the board podium.

What happens next? We don't know exactly–but everything we hear suggests that the conflict between the Jeffco school board's right-wing majority and the politically moderate community they serve is rapidly coming to a head. Stay tuned.

BREAKING: Libby Szabo Selected as Jefferson County Commissioner, Creating Vacancy in HD-27

UPDATE: The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reports:

Szabo will take the seat of Republican Faye Griffin, a serial job jumper who resigned from the board after being elected county clerk in November.

Another GOP vacancy committee, for House District 27, will meet and appoint someone to take over Szabo’s seat. And the House GOP caucus will meet to elected someone to Szabo’s leadership post; she is the assistant minority leader.

Szabo said she did not know when she would be sworn in as a commissioner.

The liberal blog ColoradoPols has called into question the vacancy committee process, including the fact that it refused to release the names of other contenders for the post. Szabo, who has pushed for transparency, said she was not involved in how that committee operated.

—–

Libby Szabo

Libby Szabo

Republican State Rep. Libby Szabo, the Assistant Minority Leader in the GOP caucus who was just re-elected in November, has been selected by a Jefferson County Republican Party vacancy committee to become the new County Commissioner in District 1. A formal announcement is expected to come as early as this afternoon.

If you were wondering, Szabo never bothered to say anything publicly about seeking a new job one month after being re-elected to the State Legislature; nor did Szabo say anything on Dec. 15th, when she was named the top Republican on the influential House Business Affairs and Labor Committee. Szabo was one of 9 applicants to submit their names for the vacancy created by the early departure of Commissioner Faye Griffin, a serial office jumper who was elected Jeffco Clerk and Recorder (again) last November.

The 75-year-old Griffin has become notorious for failing to finish her elected term in office in order to prolong her time on the taxpayer's dole. Even the editorial board of the Denver Post ("Enough is Enough, Faye Griffin") was incensed at Griffin's apparent contempt for actually finishing her job in the office she was elected to serve. As the Denver Post wrote in October:

We asked Griffin why she would leave the commission two years early, and she was candid in saying it was due to term limits. Griffin is in the middle of her second term, and if she stayed in the position, she couldn't run for the commission again — and there would be no other palatable options for her, in her mind.

"In two years, there's no county office that is open," Griffin said. So, she is seeking the office she held for eight years, starting in 1998. [Pols emphasis]

Political blog JeffcoPols pointed out Griffin's move and speculated that it could be part of a larger shuffle of Republican politicians in Jefferson County intended to avoid open-seat elections. Even if it is wrong about the specific moves, the blog makes a valid point about how Griffin's action would cede power to the GOP vacancy committee in Jefferson County.

Faye Griffin

Who needs elections when you have a Faye Griffin?

Szabo's appointment will trigger yet another Republican vacancy decision — yet again leaving the voters out of the process. By state statute, Jeffco Republicans have 10 days to pick a replacement for House District 27 once Szabo officially resigns her legislative seat, and if history is any indication, they'll keep the process a secret for as long as they can get away with it. Take a look at what Ramsey Scott wrote in the Canyon Courier on Tuesday:

Natalie Menten, who works for the Jeffco GOP, said the party wasn’t releasing the names of the nine applicants. The seven-member vacancy committee was working to narrow the list to a few finalists. [Pols emphasis]

Menten said the party had received more than 50 comments from the public on the process, mostly recommending someone for the vacancy. 

The Republican vacancy committee refused to release the names of applicants to one of the most powerful elected positions in Jefferson County. Why is that okay? You are required to put your name on the ballot if you want to run for office in every other scenario involving elected officials, but once a vacancy committee convenes, it all becomes a big secret?

This nonsense has been going on for years in Jefferson County, with elected officials leaving office early as a way around term limits and to allow a Republican Party vacancy committee to choose the successor. We have no quarrel with the process of filling a vacant seat in general, but something needs to change when it is being so blatantly abused as it is in Jefferson County. A committee of just 7 members selected Szabo to an office that normally requires winning the votes of the entire county; there are more than 256,000 people in Jeffco who voted in November but will now have no input into who will serve as one of three County Commissioners — or who will decide their representative in one of a handful of House Districts in Jeffco.

We've been following this story closely for a very long time; remember, dear readers, that you heard it here first.

Right-Wing School Board Presidents Caught Talking Shop

A photo taken yesterday by Scott Kwasny, the communications director of the Jefferson County Education Association, captures–apparently by random chance–a lunch meeting between Jefferson County Board of Education President Ken Witt and the conservative presidents of several other school boards across the state at Lakewood's Jose O'Shea's Mexican restaurant:

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Ken Witt.

Ken Witt.

Witt is the guy hiding his face. We take Kwasny at his word on this, but you can also see Witt's blocky haircut poking out around his binder.

Kwasny identifies the other men in this picture as Kevin Larsen of Douglas County, Bob Kerrigan of the Thompson school district, Mark Clark of Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and Roger Good of Steamboat Springs–all conservative presidents of their respective school boards. According to Kwasny's Facebook post, the subject of discussion was teacher contracts.

To be clear, there's nothing illegal going on here, even though such a meeting raises obvious questions. These men all serve on different school boards, so they would not be subject to Colorado's open meetings law. The biggest problem with this photo is the optics–Ken Witt and the Jefferson County school board's conservative majority regularly insist that they are not coordinating ideological "Dougco-style" reforms to roll out in Jefferson County. He says so even after hiring the district's new superintendent out of Douglas County–but it's a matter of, you know, pretense.

Well folks, so much for that pretense.

Top 10 Stories of 2014: Unfinished Business in Jefferson County (#9)

The Taj.

The Taj.

Jefferson County, Colorado has long been considered a bellwether–for the state of Colorado, and increasingly as a place where national political trends can be seen in action contemporaneous to or before they take hold elsewhere. The result in Jefferson County has predicted the winner in Colorado statewide races for long enough that the rule of "as Jefferson County goes, so goes Colorado" has become axiomatic for politicos in this state.

This year, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner narrowly defied this rule, losing Jefferson County by under 1,000 votes but winning the election statewide. The reasons for this have more to do with dynamics across Colorado that hurt Democrats, a hardening of partisan battle lines that robbed Mark Udall of swing independent and moderate Republican votes other Democrats in recent elections have won over. Looking at Udall's performance compared to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who carried Jefferson County and the state by a much greater margin than Gardner, there's a case to be made that Udall's collapse in September and October was more attributable to Colorado voters rejecting him personally–or at least his campaign's heavy focus on abortion–than Democrats generally.

In Jefferson County, the 2014 elections took place against the backdrop of major unplanned controversy created by a new conservative school board majority. The 2013 election's big story in Colorado was the absolute slaughter at the polls of Amendment 66, an education tax increase. Amendment 66, in turn, turned out conservative voters all over the state, including in Jefferson County where three hard-right conservatives were elected by a landslide to form the new majority on the Jeffco's five-seat school board.

The new Jeffco school immediately set to work on a sweeping, highly politicized agenda of conservative reform proposals. After butting heads with the teacher's union over pay issues, the new board pushed through the hiring of a new superintendent from Douglas County–the same far-right dominated union-busting school district presently mired in court battles over their insistence funding religious schools that the new school board promised would not be their "model" for "reforming" Jefferson County Public Schools.

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Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

In September, the conflict in Jefferson County went national–in fact international–when word surfaced of a proposal from board member Julie Williams to review the district's AP history curriculum to ensure that it "promotes citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respects for authority and respect for individual rights, [does] not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law," and presents "positive aspects of the United States and its heritage." Williams is the sister-in-law of Sen.-elect Tim Neville, one of the most conservative incoming (and former) members of the Colorado legislature. With the power of the new majority, some of the fringiest actors in Colorado politics stood ready to impose their wacky will on one of the state's highest-performing public school districts.

As anyone who followed this story knows, thousands of students from across Jefferson County stormed out of class in massive and well-organized demonstrations against Williams' curriculum review proposal. At one point, the protests stretched for 22 miles along Wadsworth Boulevard, Jeffco's busiest surface street. Ultimately a weakened version of the curriculum review proposal was approved by the board without Williams incendiary language, but still one that gives Williams' political allies lots of board-sanctioned ability to make trouble. In the meantime, students and teachers are talking about the daunting logistics of recalling the new board majority, with a newfound understanding of the threat they represent.

So what does this mean for politics in Colorado's "political bellwether" county? It means something, for sure–but the full impact of the battle over public education in Jefferson County was not felt in 2014. This is not to say that Democrats didn't do their damndest to link the antics of the new school board with Republican candidates on the ballot–we documented numerous examples of hard-hitting TV spots and mailers linking Julie Williams to Neville, Laura Waters Woods, Tony Sanchez, Larry Queen, and others. It's likely that those ads made a difference, even if Neville and Waters Woods still won their races. It's clear that the prospect of having these protests turned against Republican candidates in Jeffco frightened GOP strategists at any rate, who responded with mailers intending to co-opt the protesters' message that were so desperate and shameless they left jaws agape.

In the end, 2014 was a year when the midterm political background noise may have helped conceal the long-term damage being done to conservatives in Jefferson County. In the worst electoral climate for Democrats in Colorado in many elections, Democrats actually did pretty well, enough to where Jefferson County if anything looks like less of a bellwether this election. If one bets that 2016 will not be the perfect storm for Democrats that 2014 was, and we believe that's a good bet, then key Jeffco races in 2016, like Sen.-elect Waters Woods in SD-19, would seem to be very ripe for flipping back to Democratic control. As for those thousands of student protesters? Many of them will be voters by 2016, at least some helped along by Colorado's new law allowing 16 year olds to pre-register to vote. Whether or not the conservative school board majority can be recalled is one question–but we expect their actions to ripple negatively for Jeffco Republicans for years to come regardless.

Bottom line: the role of Jefferson County may grow to something more than a bellwether in the coming years. As the state's fourth largest county by population, this is an electorate with enough heft to swing elections in Colorado–and this year, it's a county that (albeit narrowly) bucked the trend. That's not the same thing as a bellwether exactly, but in 2016, Democrats may have reason to celebrate Jeffco's bluer trajectory.

Jeffco Commissioner Vacancy Attracting Lots of Interest

Faye Griffin

Last week we told you about the upcoming Republican vacancy committee in Jefferson County to fill the seat of serial office-jumper Faye Griffin (left). We've since heard a number of rumored candidates who may apply before the Dec. 29th deadline, as well as some interesting — if not terribly surprising — news about the vacancy committee itself.

First off, the Jefferson County Republican Party website claims that they have a 7-member vacancy committee that will decide Griffin's replacement (once she is sworn-in, again, as Clerk and Recorder on Jan. 13). But the vacancy committee could be ripe for a challenge itself; according to results from a Central Committee Meeting in June, the Jeffco GOP only appointed five people to its vacancy committee after Bill Tucker resigned as Party Chair following a bitter and contentious battle with supporters of Dudley Brown's Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) group. E.V. Leyendecker is the current chair of the Jeffco GOP, which makes county government matters particularly sticky given that Leyendecker publicly called on Republican Assessor candidate Ron Sandstrom to resign as a candidate in September when it was revealed that Sandstom owes the federal and state government nearly $100k in back taxes.

This could create quite a conundrum for Jeffco Republicans as the list of potential County Commissioner candidates grows longer. Current County Treasurer Tim Kauffman is indeed eligible to be selected by the vacancy committee, having met the minimum residency requirement. Two other well-known Republican names surfaced over the weekend as likely applicants to fill the vacancy: HD-27 Rep. Libby Szabo and failed 2014 State Senate candidate (SD-20) Larry Queen.

As we have discussed before in this space, Jeffco Republicans could actually end up filling two of the top county government jobs depending on how things shake out. If Republicans elect to go with Kauffman as Griffin's replacement, they would then need to fill (via vacancy committee) the County Treasurer position that Kauffman would subsequently vacate. In that scenario, term-limited Jeffco Assessor Jim Everson will likely campaign to replace Kauffman as Treasurer. Of course, all of this assumes that there is not a mix-up with the formation of the vacancy committee, which would only bring more clowns to the circus.

There's a good reason why you should care about all of this — we're talking about a complete runaround on Democracy that Jeffco Republicans have been influencing for the last decade-plus. Jefferson County is home to more people than the entire state of Wyoming, yet a 3-person majority may soon decide how to fill 2 of the 7 countywide elected positions in Jeffco. We understand that this is how the process has been set up to deal with vacancies, but maybe it's time to take another look at those rules and regulations. For a Republican Party that spent countless hours crowing about ballot integrity in 2014, they've been awfully quiet about a pending vacancy committee that will effectively disenfranchise every voter in Jefferson County.

Jeffco Republicans Set Application Deadline for Commissioner Vacancy: Dec. 29th

The Jeffco Shuffle: Government by Vacancy Committee

The Jeffco Shuffle: Government by Vacancy Committee. Don’t be surprised if this is how things shake out in January.

Jefferson County Commissioner Faye Griffin was elected (again) in November to serve as Clerk and Recorder, marking another move for the serial office-jumper and yet another Republican Party vacancy committee. We wrote before about the absurdity of the 75-year-old Griffin failing to complete an elected term for the second time in 6 years, and even the editorial board of the Denver Post criticized Griffin's political incontinence.

According to the Jefferson County Republican Party, a GOP vacancy committee has 10 days to appoint a new county commissioner once Griffin resigns and is sworn-in as Clerk and Recorder on Jan. 13:

The candidate selection will be determined by the Jefferson County Republican Party County Commissioner Vacancy Committee. The seven members of this panel were elected by the Jefferson County Central Committee to represent them in this matter.

In order to ensure a transparent, open and fair process for applicants – all qualified, interested parties are encouraged to apply for this position. The deadline to apply for this vacancy appointment is midnight on December 29, 2014. Applications received after this deadline will not be accepted.

**Applicant requirements** Must be a eligible elector registered with the Republican Party. Must have resided within Jefferson County Commissioner District 1 for at least the past twelve months.

It's interesting to note a change in the "Applicant Requirements" that mandates candidates to live within Commissioner District 1 for "at least the past twelve months." You can call this the "Odom Rule."

This change no doubt occurred thanks to former Republican Commissioner John Odom, a man who was largely absent during his first term before losing his bid for re-election to Democrat Casey Tighe in 2012. Odom was appointed to fill a vacancy in March 2011 when then-Commissioner Kevin McCasky resigned mid-term to take another job, and there was plenty of dispute at the time as to when Odom became a resident of Commissioner District 2. A search of publicly-available property records shows that Odom didn't close on a new home in District 2 (he was previously a resident of District 1) until literally 24-48 hours before the vacancy committee selected him to replace McCasky.

Republicans apparently didn't want a repeat of Odom's musical homes game, which is why applicants for the District 1 vacancy must have resided within the district for at least 12 months. We haven't had a chance to check the specifics of Treasurer Tim Kauffman's residency requirements, but it's possible that Kauffman (a frontrunner to claim the vacant Commissioner spot) may be just outside the boundaries; that would be quite the political irony, since Kauffman was appointed to his job through (you guessed it) a Republican vacancy committee when Griffin was sworn-in as County Commissioner in 2009.

But if Kauffman is eligible and does receive the vacancy committee nomination, he'll have to resign from his position as County Treasurer…giving the GOP vacancy committee yet another countywide seat to fill. There are just 7 members of the Republican vacancy committee, and it's more likely than not that these 7 people will get to fill two countywide seats that should otherwise be decided by the 422,691 registered voters in Jefferson County. Yay Democracy!

 

The Folly of Denver’s Residential Requirements Effort

There is an effort underway in Denver to re-establish a degree of residency requirement that may appear on the May 2015 ballot. This is a stupid idea, for reasons that we'll explain in a moment. But first, we'll let Jon Murray of the Denver Post explain the trumped-up controversy:

Denver voters long ago repealed a requirement that city workers live within city limits, but a group of residents is working to revive the rule for mayoral appointees.

They're aiming to place a charter amendment on the ballot for next May's municipal election, when Mayor Michael Hancock is up for re-election...

…For about 20 years, landlocked Denver had the rule for all city employees, from top political appointees to janitors.

But in 1998, Denver voters decided, 58 percent to 41 percent, to expand the residency rule significantly, allowing city employees to live not only in Denver, but also in six nearby counties.

In 2001, Denver voters repealed the residency requirement altogether, 51 percent to 48 percent.

SWDenver-Map2

You’re not in Denver anymore. Or are you?

The editorial board of the Denver Post weighed in over the weekend, calling the residency requirement "a step too far" and "unnecessary," and we wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. We have no problem with requiring elected officials to live in the area in which they seek to represent, but there's a good reason that Denver scrapped this requirement for city workers in general.

Denver's City and County boundaries evolved in a weird way over the last century, which you can see from the map at right. There are official Denver tentacles that stretch wayyy outside reasonable boundaries, with little pockets of the City and County existing as municipal islands in the middle of Jefferson County.

The reason that Denver County juts well past Sheridan to the Southwest is because old residency requirements once required all city employees — including those working for the fire and police departments — to live within official Denver boundaries. As Metro Denver grew into the vast sprawl that exists today, many of these Denver employees wanted to move into newer, and more affordable, developments popping up in nearby unincorporated Jefferson County.

As a workaround solution so that Denver employees could keep their jobs and their new homes, odd sections of land were annexed into Denver — the metropolitan mountain moving to Muhammad, to borrow a phrase. This is a middle finger to the entire argument in favor of residential requirements, which is the idea that City and County employees will be more attuned to the needs and desires of Denver so long as you extend a boundary on a map.

Today, these neighborhoods are so far removed from the City and County of Denver that residents spend most of their lives (and money) in Jefferson County, even if their property taxes go somewhere else. Denver residents wisely voted to drop the requirements in 1991, but now some folks want to reestablish these requirements for mayoral appointees for petty reasons. This is a slippery slope that can quickly become problematic as more and more levels of local government get obsessed with the relevance of residency. Employees of Jefferson County are not required to live within the county boundaries, nor should they be. We can only imagine how it would stifle diversity if we required all government employees to live in specific areas.

The Denver Metropolitan Area is more than just the boundaries of its capitol city…and that's a good thing. If you don't like a particular mayoral appointee, then you can take it up with the Mayor's office; requiring an employee to move into the dotted-line sections of a map isn't going to change anything.

 

Jeffco School Board Members Attend Meeting Co-Hosted By White Nationalist Hate Group?

UPDATE #3: We've just received word that the flyer from the Evergreen Tea Party shown below may have mistakenly listed the American Freedom Party as a sponsor of last Monday's meeting. There appears to be some confusion on this point, but it's possible that whoever made this flyer mistook the American Freedom Party for another conservative organization that goes by the acronym AFP: Americans for Prosperity.

This would be a fairly comedic error if true, and certainly not the fault of the parents alarmed by this flyer who sent it to us–but would also be, we think, objectively good news. We'll update once we can confirm this latest information.

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UPDATE #2: From a statement forwarded to us by Evergreen High School principal Ryan Alsup:

My goal for the evening was to brag about our school, and let the people know about the great education we currently provide. My address consisted of our data, the data that has made us one of the top ranked schools in the state and country. I am very proud of our students, and staff, and the relationship that we have developed with our immediate community. As a principal, I cannot discuss my own political affiliations, however, please know that I do not condone or support any anti-Semitic or racist views and organizations. It is my job to ensure that we provide a balanced education for all students. We work hard at Evergreen High School to ensure that our students understand the importance of inclusion, and have various student clubs and activities designed to celebrate diversity.

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2014’s “Swing Issue?” Public Education

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

We've all heard it before: "As goes Jefferson County, so goes Colorado." 

In an election year where national developments such as Ebola and ISIS have created more generalized voter angst than focused anger, Colorado's 2014 state legislative races seemed destined to enter the final stretch with no clear definition or rallying cry.

Meanwhile, in Jeffco – which has four targeted races that will ultimately determine which party will control the state Senate – the new school board majority that was elected last year was conducting itself in a way that created some concern among parents and teachers, but didn't set off particularly potent alarms outside the education community.

But, just as ballots were dropped off in mailboxes, the defining moment came: Julie Williams' proposal to sanitize AP US history. Once she tipped the board majority's hand, the deep concerns among parents about what the Jeffco School board might be planning turned into a nationally broadcast, student-protest-fueled, laser-focused rejection of what the majority was proposing. 

That's how defining issues are born. Jeffco voters who currently have no way to take direct electoral action against the board majority are looking for ways to make their voices heard. They're asking about it when candidates come to the door and, judging from a spate of new video ads from the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, Senator Andy Kerr, Senator Rachel Zenzinger, Citizens Alliance for Accountable Leadership, and Great Education Colorado Independent Expenditure Committee, supporting public education must be polling pretty well.

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