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What's Al Loma so afraid of? For someone who tries to talk a big game — pretending he’d “jump over our counter and gangster slap” a constituent, among other things — he sure needs a lot of protection.

Along with Lauren Nelson, Sandra Bankes and Jason Jorgenson, Loma was elected in November as part of a right-wing slate which gave conservatives a majority on the Colorado Springs School District 11 board. It’s been chaos ever since.

Loma and board VP Jorgenson have publicly posted (and have been forced to apologize for) misinformation on Facebook; Jorgenson has faced fierce backlash for posting an offensive transphobic meme; and Loma described Black constituents as “barking chihuahuas” and “thuggish,” and threatened to “hunt down” a D11 employee. Those are lowlights from a long list.

When D11 board director Julie Ott requested at D11’s Feb. 23 meeting that the matter of reprimand be added to the agenda for Loma and Jorgenson, for contributing to “a hostile and threatening learning and working environment,” Loma scrambled for cover. “I move that we put this into executive session … to discuss her concerns,” Loma said, as if the broader D11 community hadn’t been calling for him to be pulled into line for weeks. “That way it doesn’t — it looks good out here for the people who want to see it. But, um, all those type of things should be better done in private.”

It’s laughable that Loma thinks he should be able to suppress public discussion of his own reprimand. At best, that’s cowardly. At worst, it likely violates board procedures: The matter of reprimand should be added to the public meeting agenda as a non-action item, as Ott requested. If it’s moved to executive session, members are banned from disclosing what happens there — no one outside that room will ever know what was said, or who voted to hold Loma and Jorgenson to account. 

But this is very much in line with the conservative playbook for school board takeovers: backdoor tactics are good; accountability is bad. We’ve seen it play out in Douglas County and District 51.

At D11’s Feb. 23 meeting, Board President Parth Melpakam pushed to move discussion of reprimands to a private work session, saying he wanted legal counsel involved — a move that Ott correctly said “would be irregular.”

That’s putting it nicely. Here’s putting it accurately: Always be wary of decisions that are made away from the eyes of the people. When those in power won’t let the public join the conversation — or even know what’s being said — it’s a red flag on the level of book-burning. Transparency is sacred to American democracy, but it takes effort.

As president, Melpakam has a critical role to play here: He must take vigorous steps to promote and defend transparency in all board decision-making. He has the power to start rebuilding the trust in D11 that has been so drastically eroded by Loma and Jorgenson, with help from Nelson and Bankes. 

The overflowing halls at D11 board meetings, the deluge of emails, the protests and the endless wait lists for public comment show that trust in the board is sinking fast. But it’s not too late to bring accountability back, and let the public see the decisions that affect them so deeply.

Speaking of trust: Keep a close eye on any maneuvers the D11 board makes on legal counsel. The contract with D11’s current law firm ends in June, and there’s alarm over talk of changes to legal representation. A popular maneuver among conservative-majority boards elsewhere has been to retain counsel from the Springs-based law firm Miller Farmer — and specifically Brad Miller (see p. 10). Another conservative board strategy has been to hire separate legal counsel, setting the stage for opposition between the district and the board. In D11, the board and the district share counsel. Colorado Springs Education Association President Joe Schott says if the board moves to hire its own legal counsel, “that would be the red flag. Actually, it wouldn’t be a red flag — it’d be a battleship firing salvos across the district,” he told the Indy.

Other conservative boards have hired Miller using questionable backdoor tactics. Until D11’s board succeeds in rebuilding trust, we’ll have to watch closely to make sure its right-wing members don’t try that too.