Bill on executive sessions dies

Residents who question school board backed legislation

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To Douglas County School Board President John Carson, the executive sessions bill that died at the state Capitol April 24 was “the usual nonsense from the AFT (American Federation of Teachers).”

To the bill’s supporters, it was a bid for greater transparency, triggered by questionable school board conduct.

The AFT is the parent organization of the local teachers’ union, the Douglas County Federation.

The original bill, introduced by two Adams County Democrats, state Rep. Cherylin Peniston and state Sen. Mary Hodge, called for recording of all closed-door sessions of elected local-government bodies. That would have included issues classified as attorney-client privilege, which now are exempt from the recording requirement. Citizens with concerns about a closed-door meeting could then have asked a judge to review the recording.

An amended version of the bill, which would only have required governing agencies to document the amount of executive-session time spent on specific issues, also failed.

The Colorado Municipal League and other groups opposed the bill because of its applicability to all elected local government entities.

“This is something that would put a little more sunshine in the Sunshine Law and help keep these people honest,” said Cindy Barnard, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Douglas County School District’s voucher program who testified in support of the bill. “What I am seeing in Douglas County concerns me.”

Carson says there was no need for any changes, and believes the teachers’ union — whose collective bargaining agreement with DSCD expired in June 2012 — pushed for the bill. The Douglas County Federation also filed suits against DCSD in February on issues related to teacher hiring and a sick-leave bank; the district has moved for dismissal of the suits.

“When you’re reforming a school district and you’re taking money away from the union, they’re going to get angry,” Carson said. “That’s really the root of all this.

“I think they’ll probably give up once we win the next round of board elections.

“No one has ever identified a single problem with the way we conduct our executive sessions and they won’t because we conduct them in compliance with the law and our legal counsel advises us on that.”

Minutes on the Douglas County School District’s website show the length of executive sessions increased substantially during recent years, from an average of 20 minutes to more than an hour and a half. In April, the board cut the time spent in executive session to about an hour and 10 minutes. Carson said legal complexities surrounding the voucher lawsuit and other issues necessitate the private discussions.

AFT President Brenda Smith said a varied group of stakeholders supported the bill.

Susan Meek, formerly a DCSD spokeswoman and now vice president of the grassroots Strong Schools Coalition, also testified in support of the bill.

Barnard, president of Taxpayers for Public Education, and Meek said their organizations are not affiliated with or supported by the teachers’ union.

“I’ve received zero money from the teachers’ union,” Barnard said. “I am not the AFT. I’m a concerned Douglas County Republican.”

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