What do you get when five school board members gather together to talk business?
According to Colorado state law, if they have not posted an official notice of the meeting at least 24 hours ahead of time in a designated spot, you've got yourself an illegal meeting. And, at least in District 11's case, you've got yourself a five-ring circus.
Yes, it's been another whirlwind week for the city's largest school district.
Let's start with last Wednesday night, when state Sen. Ed Jones showed up to, as he put it, "show his support" for his local school district. After he was introduced to the crowd by his brother-in-law, D-11 school board member Willie Breazell, Jones proceeded to add a certain je ne sais quoi to the deliberations.
During a break in the meeting, eyewitnesses said that Jones, who supports vouchers and charter schools, began a noisy argument with an anti-charter school activist who was in the crowd. When the senator began cussing loudly in front of children who were in the audience, three D-11 security guards descended; Jones warned them to back off. He eventually sat down, but kept on cussing out loud, leaving observers wondering just what the senator had been drinking.
Later, Jones pooh-poohed the incident, insisting the security team had overreacted. "I had no idea what they were doing," Jones said. "All of a sudden they were all around me and I had to tell them to back down. It was crazy." Jones insisted that he was perfectly sober at the time and had no idea how anyone could have thought otherwise. "B.J. and I went straight to the meeting from the house," he said, referencing his wife, B.J. Jones, who is U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard's Colorado Springs area representative.
Anyway, after the Jones incident, board member Eric Christen stunned observers when he announced that he, with the help of Breazell and board member Craig Cox, planned to unveil a report titled "An Agenda for Positive Change." The document, Christen promised, would detail "How to Put the Focus Back on Students in D-11 and Change Lives." At that time -- around 9 p.m. -- Christen announced that he and his colleagues were holding a press conference the next day at 4:30 p.m. in front of the central administration building to talk about the proposal.
You'd think that his colleagues -- particularly the four who have expressed diametric opposition to Christen's often-aggressive posturing -- would have been delighted by his newfound commitment to putting the focus back on students, and off of him.
But there was at least one problem with the plan: Christen, Breazell and Cox did not post a notice of their press conference 24 hours ahead of time. In other words, they apparently violated the state's Open Meeting Law that requires such notification when three or more members of an elected body gather to talk business.
To make matters worse, on Thursday two more school board members showed up to see what Christen and his pals were up to. With Karen Teja standing nearby, Mary Wierman complained about Christen's methodology of calling a press conference rather than trying to work through the elected body. When she was asked what she was doing attending what appeared to be an illegal gathering of a board quorum, Wierman, as did Teja, quickly left.
A few minutes later, the question of illegal meetings came up again, and Christen batted it aside with this inexplicable claim: "You're barking up the wrong tree." Regardless of who was barking where, Cox and Breazell also hightailed it out of there.
A few blocks away, many of the city's muckety-mucks gathered at the First Presbyterian Church downtown to bid farewell to D-11 superintendent Norm Ridder, whose departure just coincidentally was timed in the midst of division and foment the likes of which the district has never before seen. (That farewell party, by the way, was posted in accordance with state law.)
The bigwigs included Steve Schuck -- the man who is oft credited as the source of D-11's current volatility -- as well as Mayor Lionel Rivera and Rep. Keith King (who reportedly would just love Ridder's old job). Even Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan was there, likening Ridder's experience in District 11 to Mass. "Sometimes, the sign of a good service is no one gets hurt," Sheridan told the crowd.
Yup, sometimes escaping without injury is the name of the game.
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