Denise Connelly: Clarifying the facts

Advertisement

After reading several editorials about the Pilot & Today's lawsuit against the Steamboat Springs School Board, I feel compelled to clarify the facts.

The current School Board, as well as the previous board, makes/made every effort to comply with the Sunshine Law. We do feel we have an obligation to do our business in public.

The efforts of the Pilot to add more information to the motions were neither "ignored" nor "rebuffed." The motion in question was reworded, and the phrase "involving access to information" was added to the personnel matter announcement for executive session. The Pilot refers to the Jan. 6, 2007, meeting as "the illegal meeting." Three of the four judges reviewing the transcripts found the content of the meeting legal. The motion to go into executive session, made by Pat Gleason, was found to be deficient by two of the four judges because the name of the superintendent was not included.

The previous board also has been accused of not trying to settle this case. This simply is not true. After the case initially was decided in favor of the district, and the motion made by the Pilot to reconsider the verdict was denied, an e-mail explored the possibility of ending the issue by turning over the tape of the executive session. The reply from the Pilot was that this "would not be sufficient." It was stated this past week that the Pilot was willing to stop further litigation against the school district if $13,000 of legal fees were paid. The actual proposal also included three more points, one of which we contend would have put the district under future legal liability. It would have been irresponsible on our part to agree to these extra settlement conditions. Even without the extra conditions, I'm sure the taxpayers would have balked at paying the Pilot's legal fees after the District Court had decided in favor of the district.

In the past month, the board decided to settle the lawsuit as opposed to continuing on to the Colorado Supreme Court. When the Colorado Appeals Court made its decision, it issued an unpublished opinion. The "unpublished" status means the court does not consider the decision important as far as clarifying or adding to existing law, and it will not used as precedent in future litigation. The Supreme Court accepts a small percentage of cases each year, and it would be very unlikely that an unpublished case would be chosen for consideration.

What this whole situation comes down to is that City Council and the School Board, consisting of community volunteers, now pay their attorneys to scrutinize their executive session agendas. Executive sessions are components of government bodies that are neither "secret" nor "illegal" and are fully allowed and, at times, required by state statute. The district now will pay $50,000 to the legal team representing the Pilot and the Colorado Press Association, who took the case on a contingency basis, and our own legal fees of $40,000.

Was this really in the best interest of the community and our students? I guess it depends on your point of view. The sad aspect of this case is that in these tough economic times $90,000 can buy a lot of journalistic principle - or 3,000 textbooks, or 90 computers, or two teachers' salaries. It's high time to put personal agendas aside and concentrate on what's best for our community and students. Our community and students deserve that.

I sincerely hope the school district and the Pilot can have a better working relationship in the future.

Denise Connelly

Steamboat Springs School Board

Comments

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Thank you Denise for writing this and for all your work and time given to the district. It's good that we finally get to hear the other side of this story. It's absurd that we had to give $90,000 of taxpayer money to a bunch of lawyers over this. Have to give credit to Brent for actually printing this, and on a Sunday no less. I guess he kind of has to, what with the Pilot being the champions of openness and all.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

Oh, okay, it was an "unpublished" opinion. I've got one of those. It tells me that not having a legal pleading in the proper format is grounds to strip me of protections guaranteed by federal law.

Now, everybody who knows anything about the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure knows that the rules clearly state that the clerk of the court may not refuse to accept a pleading because of errors in formatting, but may require the error to be corrected. In my case neither one was done, and the paper was conveniently "lost" for the benefit of a party represented by an attorney who pulled some political weight as evidenced by his appointment to the local commission on judicial performance.

The text of my opinion clearly states that my pleading was never accepted as filed in the Routt County District Court because of a formatting error on the first page, and as a result, the Court never received notice of the filing. Nobody outside the parties to the case will ever see the text of my opinion unless they go to Denver and look up a paper copy. That's how the Court of Appeals buries the truth from the citizens who pay their salaries. Makes you proud, no?

So the very important thing for everyone to know is that our Court of Appeals makes it up as they go sometimes, and if they decided "you lose," you lose, and there's not much you can do about it. It has nothing to do with what's legal, lawful, fair and equitable. It's about politics and who is in favor at the moment.

Ms. Connelly's analysis of the opinion rendered in this case is a nice stab at putting a spin on the issue, but it's going to come down to the fact that there was no reason to keep the information secret, no reason to close the session, and no reason for the District Court judge who ruled against the Pilot to have done so. An unpublished opinion full of gobbledy-goop like this is a way of slapping the loser on the wrist for wasting the Court of Appeals' time (in their opinion) and saying, "go away."

The law, as written, was not followed by the School Board and that's the reason $90,000 was wasted on litigation. We have a right to know their business, because they're spending our money. People who don't want their salaries and evaluations discussed at a public meeting should not seek employment with a public entity. It's that simple.

The real solution is for the people who vote on school board membership to stay aware of who did what and ensure that the members responsible for closing the session are not reelected to a job they clearly cannot handle without damaging the school district.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

The lawyers on contingency weren't just "breaking even." They were making very good money as long as they won. Which explains why they made it impossible for the school board to settle. They didn't want them to settle. So they included a provision that was impossible for the board to meet, as Denise describes in this letter.

No, I'm not on the school board but I admire those who are willing to donate that much of their time and effort to it. I have worked with Denise Connelly so I know what a fine person she is. I trust her account of the facts.
And obviously it steams me that a few people at the Pilot pushed this to such an absurd degree and cost the district $90,000.

The biggest agenda is the Pilot's and everyone who knows that story has been too polite to lay it out.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

BTW, the unpublished opinion is not secret and is available to the public. I got an electronic copy by filling out a form in which I promised not to refer to it in legal pleadings.

Unpublished is a legal distinction that means the case is not to be used as a precedent cited by lawyers in other legal proceedings. And the reason it should not be used is that the case contains nothing unique and so lawyers are to use existing precedent.

It does Denise Connelly no credit to be arguing semantics about whether or not the executive session was legal. She is arguing the executive session was not illegal which from her point of view could be true. But it was improperly called and they discussed topics other than the reason given so the minutes became public records.

And the minutes describe a discussion with their lawyer in which board members are trying how to change why the surveys were done in the first place so that the board can see the surveys while keeping them out of the public record.

Two of the three appellate judges decided the case without looking at the minutes because the notice was so inadequate. So they made no judgment regarding the meeting itself. The appellate judge that thought the notice was close enough also noted that an illegal decision was made in the meeting in which the board decided that the surveys were created as part of the superintendent's performance review, despite a board member saying 4 of the 5 board members at the time saying it was not.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Some commenters seem to have their own ax to grind, for whatever reason.

As Denise explains well, executive sessions are "at times, required by state statute." So whether or not you think that superintendents and other school employees should let their salaries and records be discussed in public, school boards are required to keep them private. This board's big mistake boiled down to a few words left out that in the end didn't make any difference. Those who volunteer for the school board are usually not lawyers. It's easy to sit back and be a windbag blogger criticizing volunteer citizens who are putting in countless hours.

0

Viper 5 years, 6 months ago

Seems odd that the motion to go into executive session that caused all of these problems was made by Pat Gleason, who then refused join in the executive session.

Then several weeks later Pat delivered some e-mails to the Pilot and then resigned from his board position. Then after a nasty failed recall we found out that Pat Gleason and the superintendent were working together behind the scenes to take down a fellow board member.

And now three years and 90K later, Denise Connelly is faced with defending a misstatement that she didn't even make.

Maybe we could send the bill to Pat.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Denise and Guin are both being very selective on the facts.

It is wrong to say that the two of the appellate judges said that nothing wrong happened in the meeting. Those judges said that the wording of the resolution to go into executive session was so flawed that the minutes had to be made public. Those two judges did not consider the contents of the meeting in making their decision.

The third appellate judge said the greater context of the resolution was understandable, but then once in secret then the Board not only discussed topics different than the resolution, but even made a decision (that the surveys had been initiated as part of the superintendent's performance review even after being told that 4 of 5 boards at that time said that was not true).

If the judge that gives the school board the benefit of the doubt on the resolution is so critical on what was discussed inside the meeting then it is highly likely that the stricter judges would have also been critical of what was discussed and that a decision was made in secret.

So it deliberating misleading, aka a lie, to say that the only issue was the wording of the resolution. Where they had been allowed to pass that hurdle they were destroyed on the issue on what they had discussed in the executive session.

As for this being Par Gleason's fault - he must have awesome powers of mind control. He convinces the rest of the Board to pass a misworded resolution to enter executive session and then while not in it, causes them to discuss topics not covered by the resolution and even make an improper secret decision.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Right Scott. You're going to defend the Pilot down to your last breath. And now you're back to talking about "lies." Didn't you tell me on the previous article that I "flat made that up" about the Pilot lawyers being on contingency?

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

As I said then, it was not contingency in the normal meaning of the lawyers not getting paid unless they win and getting paid a percentage of the overall damages if they win because all the could hope to win was their actual legal costs. There was no upside other than breaking even.

The lawyers were from the Press Association of which the Pilot is a member and were acting to support the public's access to government meetings, not to make money. It was a contingency because the Press Association provided the lawyers and they, not the Pilot, thus are to be reimbursed.

And if you follow your bad lawyers contingency argument then it is not the Pilot's fault, but the Press Association. School Board created the facts. Press Association thought they could fight the case and break even. Pilot had just become a spectator.

0

stillinsteamboat 5 years, 6 months ago

Thanks Denise, for your commitment to this community. Thanks Pilot for stealing much needed resources from our children. You play dirty.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Since the minutes of the executive session have been released, the question of the importance of that execution session can be answered.

They talked about the property deal with water lines and such. That was a proper topic for executive session, but also no harm in releasing it to the public because nothing was said that would have helped the property owner in negotiating a better deal.

They spent a great deal of time talking with their lawyer trying to figure out they could see the surveys without the surveys becoming public record. They did not discuss confidential findings in the surveys. They then decided to say the surveys were initiated as part of the superintendent's performance review. Appellate judge that considered the contents of the meeting said this discussion should have been held in public and that decision was improper because it should have been made in public.

They spent a few minutes being upset with Superintendent Howell about stuff ending up in the newspaper. And she was upset with them for thinking that somehow she was benefiting from that. A little bit of dirty laundry, but nothing worse than what was said in public.

They finished with a little discussion on how to properly phrase the reason given for entering into the second executive session of the evening.

So what was the point in fighting the open meetings lawsuit? They did not discuss employees salaries or delicate personnel matters. Nothing to suggest that any employee or student would have any reason to be upset or claim they were harmed by making the executive session public.

As far as I can tell, the only part that was of benefit to the school board to keep secret was the improper discussion and decision of how they could access the surveys while keeping them out of the public record. It was clear from the discussion and resulting decision that they had no intent of using the surveys as part of the superintendent's job review until they learned that is how they could access the surveys and not the public. It was also clear from the discussion that they were told, and did not dispute, that 4 of the 5 board members serving when the surveys had been initiated had disputed the suggestion that the superintendent's performance review had anything to do with the initiating the survey.

If that had been public then the press and maybe affected staff would ask to see the surveys saying the surveys are public records and heavily quote the minutes of the executive session to argue that that school board knew they should be public records.

And that was apparently enough of a reason to fight the case and spend $50K on their lawyers and risk spending another $40K on the Press Association's lawyers if the school district lost the case.

0

trump_suit 5 years, 6 months ago

Sorry Denise but in my opinion you are part of the problem that lead to this issue. Your back handed dealings with administrators and officials have caused the poisoned atmosphere that currently exists.

Both you and Mr. Devincentis should have resigned during the Howell issue and your opinions about this issue are suspect at best.

Regardless of how you perceive this issue, the courts have clearly determined that the school board made an intentional end run around the rule of law. There are legitimate reasons to go into "executive" session but hiding information from the public is not one of them. You could have saved our children roughly $90K by admitting your mistakes and publishing the information requested.

I hope that both the School Board and the City Council will learn something from this debacle and keep public meetings and decisions public.

0

Viper 5 years, 6 months ago

This is why normal people disagree with attorneys. We look at this frivolous $90,000 lawsuit as shameful act by the Pilot while long-winded attorneys don't look beyond the minimum legal standard.

Just because they could sue, does that mean they should?

We aren't talking about money coming from a bloated freewheeling federal government that just prints money whatever they need it.

We are talking about hard earned Routt County taxpayer dollars that could have been used to hire more teachers and buy more books.

If anything the ambiguity of this matter and the threat of a Pilot lawsuit will increase our local government expenses because all meetings will have to be conducted in presence of a panel of expensive attorneys.

0

jezilu 5 years, 6 months ago

I read the transcripts--the words are there but what is the elephant they are referring to? The question comes down to who initiated the surveys? Both the board and superintendent say they did. If the board did, they become public; if the superintendent did--and she does not release them to the board--then she becomes insubordinate. Why is Mr. Troeger concerned about the mess that has been created? In an attempt to bring the superintendent down, the board realized they would have to make the surveys public, something they did not want to do. Sort of a Catch-22.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Right. Most people don't look at this from a 'lawyer's point of view' but from a common sense, citizen's point of view.

Scott, you must have a lot of time on your hands. Are you auditioning for a job at the Pilot? You're setting yourself up as the interpreter of all events, telling us what each judge was thinking and what we should take from the minutes of the meeting. I appreciate your effort but I read the transcript too and I wouldn't sum it up the way you did at all. However I can't match you in time and volume of commenting.

I will say that the transcript showed at least a couple of good reasons why it had to be private. One was the property deal with dollar amounts to be bid, etc. and the other was the personnel problem with the superintendent refusing to let them see the surveys and whether that was legal (it wasn't).

trump suit - you're showing a poisoned hand!

Blaming Denise Connelly for all of this is ridiculous. She is one member of a five-person board that has access to legal advice whenever they need it. She was President when the meeting took place over two years ago. In November of 2007, three new board members were elected and Robin Crossin became President. This new board could have just "published the information" and stopped the lawsuit long ago if it was as simple as many suggest.

Doesn't that tell you something?

0

trump_suit 5 years, 6 months ago

My children were not educated in Steamboat. I have no kids in the district and never will. My pen/hand is not "poisoned". My opinion is based on the events as I have observed them nothing more. Something is crooked in the way the school board handles itself and controversial topics. That crooked something is their desire to hide the facts and the reasons underlying their decisions.

We, John Q. Public have a right to know almost everything that was in those transcripts, and the biggest thing they discussed was trying to find a way to keep the public from knowing what those surveys said.

0

Duke_bets 5 years, 6 months ago

trump hit in on the head with the last post.

The school board knows the rules and laws. A judge decided they did not follow those rules and laws, thus resulting in a $90,000 hit to the school district. The Pilot did not benefit from the result. The Pilot was reporting and investigating, which is what a newspaper does.

Don't blame the newspaper for doing their job. Blame the board for not doing theirs.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

trump and Duke - Did either you read the transcript of the meeting or did you just accept Scott's summary? All the questions they are posing to their lawyer concern their legal requirements to protect personnel vs. the requirements of the open meetings law. They felt an obligation to protect these administrators and they better have because employees can sue if confidential information is released. They are trying to follow the "rules and laws" and it wasn't that clear of a path.

Why on earth would you think the public should see surveys that staff filled out about administrators? Those surveys would likely be used to evaluate administrators and in that case they are required to be kept confidential. Would you want surveys that your co-workers filled out about you made public?

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

It's illegal, windle. School boards are required by law to keep personnel information confidential and they can get sued if they don't. (what is it that's hard to get about that?)

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Wow, windle. I'm sorry but I'm not going to talk to you if you have no idea what's going on and apparently haven't read Denise's letter. No offense.

0

trump_suit 5 years, 6 months ago

I read every word. I also comprehend pretty well.

I understand that you may disagree Guinevere and I can respect that.

It remains my opinion that both the school board and the city council find too many reasons to go into "executive session". I personally find this behavior at odds with the public trust they hold. I support the Pilot in their efforts to stop this practice and I am glad that we have a media in this country that digs into things like this.

0

jezilu 5 years, 6 months ago

What if the "secret" meeting was called to determine if the board had grounds to fire the superintendent for insubordination? (That way they would not have to "pay her off") The whole conflict about who was responsible for the surveys makes me wonder.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

jezilu - we don't have to wonder - every word of the exec. session has been released - and that question was not discussed.

trump - ok, we'll have to agree to disagree. But as much as you dislike executive sessions, you have to admit there are sometimes valid reasons and in fact legal requirements for them that boards have to follow as part of 'the public trust they hold.'

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Note that Judge Metzger and Judge Graham ruled for the Pilot purely based upon improper notice and used the certification by the Board's own attorney to conclude that they had failed to give notice that they were going to talk to their lawyer.

Judge Carparelli in reaching his opinion did refer to the actual discussion held in executive session. The errors that he found are not obscure legalistic mistakes, but straightforward errors.

I think it is highly likely that judges that held to a stricter standard of what is proper notice would have found the same errors regarding the contents of the meeting if they had considered the contents of the meeting.

At the very least, it is not realistic to say the only issue was with the notice.

Actually, the inclusive list of flaws is: 1) Failure to state the personnel matter involved the Superintendent 2) Failure to state the executive session would include getting legal advice from their lawyer. 3) Failure to state the executive session would concern the release of the survey results. 4) Failure to state the executive session was for the confidentiality of the Board's debate about the access to the survey results 5) The Board's discussion of that topic was a non-exempt matter 6) The Board adopted a policy or position during the closed session

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Guin, You can't match me in "time and volume of commenting" and so you have 5 posts since my last post???

Some quick cut and pasting from the decision so there is no question that I am distorting their words.

Following is NOT PUBLISHED PURSUANT TO C.A.R. 35(f)

Judge Metzger writes and Judge Graham concurs (majority opinion):

The Pilot contends that the announcement made by the Board did not meet the statutory requirements. We agree. ... the notice was deficient in failing to state that the executive session would concern the release of the survey results. In addition, the notice was deficient in not identifying that the "personnel matter" was specifically the performance of the Superintendent.

The Pilot next contends the Board violated the statute by failing to announce its intention to confer with its attorney during the first executive session. Again, we agree.

Here, it is clear that the announcement of the first executive session did not contain any reference to a conference with the Board's attorney on any specific legal questions. Yet, as the court noted in its order, the transcript of that session contained a certification by the Board's attorney that portions of the transcript had been redacted and that "such [redacted] portions of the executive session were devoted to providing specific legal advice to the Board . . . regarding legal issues, and that such communications were privileged under applicable Colorado law..."

Because the proper announcement procedures were not followed here, we conclude the district court erred in not ordering the unredacted recording of the first closed session to be released.

Judge CARPARELLI specially concurring: I concur in reversing the grant of summary judgment and in the majority's resolution of the issues of standing, invited error, discussion with legal counsel, and attorney fees. However, I do not concur with the majority's conclusions that the announcement of the purpose of the executive session was deficient because it did not state that the topic would be the release of the survey results and did not specify that the "'personnel matter' was explicitly the performance of the superintendent." Instead, I conclude that there were three other infirmities: (1) the announcement of the purpose and authority for the executive session did not state that the topic of the session would be the confidentiality of the Board's debate about the access to the survey results; (2) the Board's discussion of that topic was a non-exempt matter; and (3) the Board adopted a policy or position during the closed session.

0

trump_suit 5 years, 6 months ago

Guin, I agree that there is a need for "executive sessions". What I disagree with is the frequency of their use. In this particular case, the entire discussion of who initiated the surveys cannot be decided after they are complete. The facts already exist at that point and the board was specifically trying to find a way to both use that information and find a way to keep it private by changing the past.

A small or large example? That should be left to the electorate to decide. That is the reason we need to know why these board members make the decisions they make and what their thought process is. Specifically enagaging in an effort to hide information from the public is becoming far too common in our goverment at all levels and it starts right here in Steamboat.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

In these matters the Courts often take a cause which is sufficient to decide the matter without reviewing the entire case. This is done both for economy (not wasting time and resources on things that don't matter in light of the single fact which is sufficient to decide the case) and to avoid the possibility of raising issues for further appeal in the State or U S Supreme Court.

Appeals are decided based upon the matters raised on appeal. Those would be contained in the Notice of Appeal.

There can be all kinds of errors flying around, and it's not the job of the Court of Appeals to comb out every possible defect and write a corrective dissertation. The Court decided what the Court decided and that's all you can say about it.

By the way, people confuse "personnel" matters with "personal" information in these discussions. "Personal" information relates to medical conditions, social security numbers, and other private information safeguarded by law. "Personnel" matters such as misconduct backed up by factual informaton (such as having child porn on your comptuer) are something else.

For example, the fact that a person is going on medical disability leave is a "personnel" matter. The fact that the disease is AIDS would be a "personal" matter. The guidelines on what can be discussed in open or closed meetings are clear.

A board member acting in good faith on the advice of an attorney cannot be held personally liable for damages. The Board can be sued, as in this case, for listening to bad advice.

This Board's desire to handle the Howell matter without public knowledge was not warranted by the details of the closed discussion. In any event, the matters discussed in closed session included things that are not protected by the closed session exceptions and that's where the error was made.

The bottom line is that these people don't know what they're doing and they cost the school system $90,000. The ones responsible should resign. Since they are volunteers anyway, what do they have to lose except a little bit of power that they don't know how to use correctly anyway?

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

The big picture remains - the basis for the Pilot's lawsuit was that there was not enough info in the announcement for the meeting. Maybe if the board consisted of five attorneys they wouldn't have made that mistake. Only one appeals judge criticized the content of the meeting; his was not the opinion of the whole Court of Appeals. Scott, I think you miss the big picture every time but while drowning us in attorney talk but I gotta give you credit for looking it up.

As Viper said, (see above) "just because they could sue, does that mean they should?" Was this worth $90,000? What makes matters worse is that the Pilot then made it impossible for the board to settle and afterwards wrote several skewed accounts congratulating themselves.

jezilu - ok I see what you are saying but I think the "mess" Troeger is referring to is the fact that this was a simple request to see the surveys and it shouldn't have been such a distracting ordeal to get them. Why didn't she want the board to see them? The board should be able to see what the superintendent sees. They are accountable to the public after all. I don't think they were getting ready to fire her yet. There were some 'facilitated workshops' that occurred after this meeting, the purpose of which was to help the board and Donna work together better.

also, even if the board initiated the surveys, that does not necessarily mean they become public. The rule is: if surveys are used for evaluations, they must not be made public. The confusion about who initiated the surveys probably indicates miscommunication among the six people. Understandable with a group that meets twice a month.

aich -I disagree with your bottom line. Bottom line is the board consists of volunteers, not five attorneys, and we just lost $90,000 over the wording to announce a meeting.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

No, the judge that accepted the wording of the meeting as being acceptable found that there was an improper discussion in the meeting and that a decision was improperly made in the meeting.

The two appellate judges that wrote the main opinion said that notice was invalid and did not consider the contents of the meeting. They certainly did not say that the contents of the meeting was okay except for the improper notice.

Put in other words, of all the appellate judges that considered the contents of the meeting, there was 100% agreement that there was a discussion that should have been made in public and an improper decision.

And the case did not start only because of improper notice. The appellate decision included arguments from the district court case showing that the Pilot's lawyers from the start said that there had been a decision improperly made in secret.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Like I said, Scott, you miss the big picture every time.

and per your 4 paragraphs - I never disagreed with what you said in the first so why the No? The rest are basically a waste of breath.

0

Viper 5 years, 6 months ago

If Howell hadn't gone rogue in the first place, none of this would have ever happened. The only explanation I have for that was that her iron clad four-year contract extension granted by a previous board empowered her to feel that it was ok to operate off the reservation.

You guys are right the board was beating around the bush and being a bunch of polite pansies. In the true spirit of honesty and the open meetings law they should have just said:

"Our Superintendent has been bad so we are calling an executive session to take her out behind the woodshed and spank her."

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

Well, was it Howell's or the Board's fault?

Even the board's lawyer told them that they could claim the right to see the surveys and then chose not to look at them. And so was proposing a compromise.

Remember the surveys were done on the promise that they were to be kept secret including from the Board. That was not a legally justified promise, but it was one that the Board could have honored.

And from the handling of the secret meeting and such, it certainly looks like the Board was also looking for a fight.

Probably no way to know who was more at fault.

Donna could have told the Board that what they were doing was wrong and immoral and possibly illegal, but not resist when given a directive (and she was told by school board's lawyer that she was protected if she did something under direction of the board that was later determined to be illegal).

School Board could have listened to Donna and taken the high road and said next survey is going to be clear on who and why it was initiated.

0

Viper 5 years, 6 months ago

Your high road analysis is flawed.

Howell had stabbed the board in the back several times before all of this, creating so much bad blood between them that the board could not have trusted anything she told them.

Maybe she was really smart and knew all of the answers, but the board sure couldn't trust her.

0

Sara Gleason 5 years, 6 months ago

This is pretty darn funny as far as I am concerned. I remember my dad telling us that the reason that he did not attend the executive session was that his motion to go into executive session was illegally amended and not voted on after the amendment but before the board decided to go into executive session.

And, Denise, my sympathy really goes out to you. You have had to explain why the "Sunshine Laws" exist, and at the same time, proven to be the same reason that the public should demand the enforcement of those laws. Tough situation.

As president of the board, you held more power than any of the other board members. You should not have allowed the board to even flirt with the idea of a lawsuit against the district. You are ultimately at fault in this situation.

You should have done the right thing and not allowed your own personal feelings about other board members (and their children, aka me) stop you from doing the right thing, which is what you were elected to do-put the district first. You obviously did not do this.

Denise, I also thank you for thrusting my dad's name back out into the public. Maybe this will start a debate about the qualifications and ethics surrounding local politics, and whether one should follow the conscience that the public elected him for, or whether he should pursue a personal agenda against a board who did nothing but demand that he comply with existing qualifications, regulations, and legal prerequisites. Which do you prefer?

Viper, you are a snake. Your identity is obvious to everyone who cares enough to be involved.

Please take an interest in who you vote for-so far the decision to elect board members with a personal agenda has cost taxpayers $270,000 for a superintendent buyout, $90,000 dollars to pay for an easily corrected motion, and the jobs of countless individuals (oddly, they were all people who signed the recall petition against John DeV.-just saying). So while the countless effects on children's lives is not known, taxpayers are left holding a bill for almost $400,000 and without a board that can effectively govern the school district, which is their sole responsibility. Costly and ineffective.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, or comments, and feelings,

Sara

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Well, it's natural for someone to want to defend their father and I can sympathize with that. But for anyone who knows Denise, those comments are extremely unfair and way off the mark. She was put in a difficult situation and dealt with it honorably. As already said, she has not been president of the board for the last year and a half, so if there was an easy way to end the Pilot lawsuit, someone else on the board could have done so.

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

windle, you make no sense. My 'position' is shared by a lot of other parents I know. A lot of people know and like Denise.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

I do not know Denise.

I know many parents that are appalled that the school district spent so much money fighting a case in which they lost so badly at the Court of Appeals.

What is so disturbing is that Denise Connolly's letter indicates she is either ignorant of the actual court decision or is intentionally misleading the public. Her third paragraph is almost entirely false and misleading.

Their lawyers had to know their case was bad based upon their arguments to the Court. They didn't argue they were right, but that the Pilot's lawyers didn't have the right to sue and that District Court's mistaken ruling was "invited" by the arguments made by the Pilot and some ludicrous precedent with facts completely different than this case

So why did they spend more on a bad case? Or is their relationship with their lawyer also bad and they never knew they were fighting a bad case?

The lie repeated by Denise is that the case is all about an incorrectly worded notice made by a board trying it's best. With all of the circumstances of the public meeting and a board member refusing to enter the executive session, it was obvious obvious this was exceptional. But they didn't bother telling their lawyer of the wording of the resolution.

Yes, the notice failed to say Donna Howell and that they were also going to talk to their attorney. But it was also found that the entire "access to information" discussion was not a valid topic for executive session. Privileged info is, but not trying to get access to it. And then that they had made a decision (that the studies were initiated to evaluate the superintendent) in executive session.

And her description of settlement talks makes no sense because she says the Pilot wanted too many conditions. The school board did not need the Pilot's permission to end the case. The school board could have ended the case at any point by simply making the minutes public and agreeing to pay legal fees so there would have been no issue left for the Court to decide.

Thus, her letter to the editor indicates that the same thinking that caused this problem in the first place is still going on. There is no indication of open or honest thinking, just more distortions and defense of distortions.

0

Sara Gleason 5 years, 6 months ago

My Lady-

This has nothing to do with defending my father, except that he actually did do the right thing. You may not be a board member, but my money (and not even my 401k, but the real stuff) is on you having a close personal relationship with one. While that does not exclude you from having opinions on this issue, consider this:

Fact one: The taxpayers elected a school board who did not follow the law according to the highest court in the appeals process, and many respected and elected judicial officials in between. If the board were concerned with doing so at that particular point, they probably would have been more cautious regarding that questionable decision.

Fact two: Despite the question of legality being openly raised, the majority of board members, including and especially Ms. C, decided to attend a potentially illegal executive meeting, thereby putting the credibility and agenda of the school board at stake.

Fact three: Since the taxpayers are the morons who elected the clowns who did this, we deserve to get stuck with the bill.

Lesson: Think about who you vote for and who you want in charge of your tax dollars. Oh yeah, and kids' educations.

Guin-good job not using those school owned computers. Lesson learned, eh?

Viper-could you please elaborate on how Howell went "rogue?" Using facts, not just your personal hatred and rhetoric? Thanks.

Now everyone else-watch them both work in tandem...odd coincidence, huh?

Sara

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Sara, I hate to tell you, but I don't think "everyone else" is reading this. There are far more important things going on right now than this strange conversation.

I catch your drift of who you think your fellow bloggers are...I don't know why it's so hard to believe but I am just a parent who is outraged by the Pilot lawsuit and the $90,000 lost. I have been ever since it started. There is no way the people you're accusing are anywhere near this website. Do you really think they would be?

I haven't seen any "hatred and rhetoric" until your comments, Sara. I didn't think this letter or lawsuit was about your father. You seriously need to move on. Paranoia will destroy ya.

Scott, I think that was your weakest comment yet, dude. The lawsuit was still based on the wording of the motion, no matter how many times you talk about what the one judge said about the content. And Denise's explanation of why the board was unable to settle made complete sense. What don't you understand about the "proposal also included three more points, one of which we contend would have put the district under future legal liability."?

I'm starting to wonder about your connection to this subject. You look up all these documents, but then you skew it one way only. If the school board's case was so blatantly bad, how did they win the first ruling? What would the reaction have been if the school board had said they were going to pay the Pilot $13,000 for legal fees after the Pilot lost? You will go on forever. In your comment it's like you're starting all over again after this letter has 43 comments on it. You can blog away on every article for all I care, it's when bloggers start personally bashing people who are out there contributing and volunteering that I have a problem.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

Guinnie,

Holy cow. Do you not know that Denise is married to Routt County and Routt County District Court Judge Jim Garrecht? Judges don't let families of judges lose lawsuits. What's wrong with you? The local judge did what benefitted Garrecht's wife.

These dudes do favors for each other and their political cronies all the time.

Read up on some former cases around here where judges were set back by the Court of Appeals for blatant abuses of discretion. Our $18,000,000 Kangaroo Kourt House which former Judge Doucette ordered the county to build, without jurisdiction to issue that order, is one of the reasons county employees are being laid off today. That $18M came out of reserve funds. The reserve was supposed to be used for times like the ones we have currently, when tax revenues fall.

So study up on the history of judicial abuses around here going back to the fella who had to recuse himself from the Lori Bases murder trial (which is back in court again due to judicial errors by the judge that took over) because his live-in fiancee got busted for conspiracy to traffick in cocaine.

There is one notable exception to this situation. Judge Shelly Hill has been doing a fine job, and I wish we had two more like her on the bench in our county and district. It would be unfair to include her in the group of former judges we're bettter off without, and some current ones who should have been run out of town by the voters before now.

I don't know Ms. Connelly, but I've had several encounters with Judge Garrecht as defendant, victim and advocate over the years. Sometimes he's fair and impartial. The problem is that he doesn't let his friends lose if he can find a way to avoid it. Sometimes, it's by simply ignoring the law. This is how Kris Hammond got a court order and threat of contempt against federal officers who confiscated contraband drugs from a medical marijuana patient who was not following the rules.

So, don't be surprised by what the local judges do when things like these come up. If the Pilot hadn't fought this one, the school board and every other state-chartered board would be ignoring the open meetings laws, and it would be people like you and me whose rights would be trampled by the fact that the board members don't have to spend their own money on lawyers.

0

trump_suit 5 years, 6 months ago

Sorry Guin, but when you read the transcripts of the meeting it is absolutely clear that the primary discussion was about how the board could change the reason that the surveys were initiated. That discussion caused further conversations about the options for the board to see the results without disclosing them to the public.

Problem #1. At this point in time the board had already agreed not to use those survey results, but were trying very hard to find a way .

Problem #2. At this point in time the surveys were already complete and the reasons they were intitiated were already set in stone. You cannot change history even if you want to.

Problem #3. Most of the lawyer discussion revolved around how the board could look at and use those survey results without public disclosure. This discussion is the primary source of my displeasure. If the board makes public policy then the discussion, justification and reasoning behind that public policy is by definition "public"

This case should never have been taken to court and the board should never have gone into "executive" session over this. It is very clear to me that they were trying to hide the reasons for actions that they wanted to take. The only real problem I have with the whole case is that the children will lose the $90K instead of the board members that caused the problem.

Volunteers they may be, but they hold a public office with a public trust. I would encourage ALL local politicians and board/council members to operate in a public manner and to make your deliberations open to all. That has not been happening at the school board or the City Council for a long time.

0

Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

I am not sure why the district judge so messed up the case. It appears that he got so hung up on attorney client privilege that he decided he was not going to rule that the discussion with the attorney was to be released and that was it and somehow forgot to rule on the part of the meeting was claimed to be attorney client privileged. Pretty bad error and probably ends any chance of the judge being named to a higher court.

Denise's description of the settlement talks makes no sense because they didn't need the other side's permission to concede. School district could have told any court that they were not contesting the case any more, was going to release the meeting minutes and pay legal fees. And the case would have ended regardless of what other conditions the Pilot's lawyers might have wanted.

0

Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 6 months ago

Aich- I believe "someone you know very well" was already rebuked by Scott Stanford on the judge thing.

It was a judge from Glenwood Springs that was to hear the case since no local judge would touch it due to their relationship. Just pointing out where it wasn't a "local" judge. In fact, that same "someone you know very well" in that same thread said they didn't think The Pilot would win over the board. I guess that pretty much wrong, all the way around.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

Matthew,

Think it through.

The only people who were protected from a conflict of interest locally were the local judges who recused themselves. Just because some guy who sits 100 miles away heard the case, that doesn't mean he won't do a brother a favor. Some day there might be a quid pro quo.

The alternative is to assume that the guy in Glenwood Springs is an idiot. I don't think so. You don't get to be a judge without being smart; sometimes diabolically so.

As long as a judge doesn't get caught committing an outright crime, you can't touch him. Even if he acts maliciously, he's protected from civil prosecution. That's why we pay for their unlawful orders, rulings and opinons.

0

Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 6 months ago

Aich- I thought it thru and it took seconds to do so. The Pilot won. Doesn't that negate your argument that the Glenwood judge was doing a brother a favor...unless you meant the Pilot was said brother? LOL!

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Face it, aich, your argument is blown out of the water! Didn't you say:

"don't be surprised by what the local judges do when things like these come up" and "What's wrong with you? The local judge did what benefitted Garrecht's wife."

And now we find out it wasn't a local judge! Too funny.

btw, aich, how is it you've managed to land in front of a judge so many times?

But Matthew, the Glenwood judge did rule in favor of the school district. That was the original ruling in the case. And the Pilot also lost their "motion to reconsider." It was later, at the Court of Appeals, that the Pilot prevailed.

0

Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 6 months ago

G- Thank you. My mistake on that part. I was going off of the recent ruling. I've gotten over this whole thing, personally. I still subscribe to the feeling that all parties involved in all aspects had wrongdoing. Nobody truly won this thing, in my opinion.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

Guin,

When I used the term "local judge" I should have said "district court." It's the same thing, except that a local judge can be a magistrate, county or district court judge.

You and Matthew seem to have figured it out otherwise. The point I'm making is that the Colorado Bar Association looks after its own, and to assume that a judge in Glenwood Springs would not know the Routt County details is absurd. It's difficult to find a lawyer practicing in this part of Colorado who hasn't been involved in multi-district cases for years, and someone who has been appointed to a judge's seat has probably had more than one reason to meet all the others on numerous occasions, including back in private practice, law school, etc.

So, Guin, have you never been before a judge? Never had a person in your family injured and appeared as a witness for the victim? Never bailed anybody out of jail and then asked for the bond to be revoked or returned? Never had a speeding ticket? Never had a business beef that went to court? You've led a sheltered life, and should get out more and learn more about the way our system works if you purport to care about the way it affects the community.

The law is really not a difficult subject. It's like learning how to bake a cake using a recipe. Laws lead to rulings which affect other cases, and it's all very cut and dried when it works correctly. The problem is that judges are bound by an oath but are not subject to civil penalties for violating the oath.

You can complain to the Colorado Supreme Court about individual judges, but you know what they do? They look to see if the judge acted within his jurisdiction, and as long as he did, there is no recourse against him even by the State.

So, staying out of civil court in Colorado is the key to avoiding the opportunity to be robbed at the point of a gavel. The recent case with the school board is a perfect example of how something that could have been solved for a thousand bucks in fifteen minutes became a $90,000 circus, and every bit of it went into the pockets of attorneys. It's this way because local judges protect attorney rice bowls, and each other. They pay no penalty for a miscarriage of justice, even when it's done maliciously and intentionally. That's because our judicial system has decided that it's more important for judges to be immune from penalties for their actions on the bench than for the rights of citizens to be protected when judges act maliciously.

Welcome to America. Here's your sign . . . .

0

Sara Gleason 5 years, 6 months ago

Guin-

Remember Radarascal, or whatever his name was? I said the person who I thought it was based upon his own stupid Google trail, and by 6 am the next morning all of that person's comments were removed and it was pretty much agreed that I was correct. The person I accused was directly connected to the school board controversies at the time. This leads me to believe that yes, the person(s) I alluded to do follow these comments. I do sincerely apologize if I did actually pin you down as someone else. My bad.

Here's my first point though-if I am supposed to let it go after what has been said to me about my family, which is far worse than what has been said even in public about my family, shouldn't the current school board? Why in the world would Ms. C decide to bring my dad's name back into the argument if not to try to redirect some of the current pressure on the school board by bringing up a controversial person from the old board? Why didn't she publish the names of the board members who went into the executive session and actually caused the lawsuit? And Guin-as far as I know your family's name wasn't published in the paper. So if you are advising me to let it go, why can't you?

All I have done is asked that the ex-president of the school board take responsibility for her part in this issue rather than passing the buck. And I have asked for clarification from Viper (still waiting). Just because you don't like what someone else has to say doesn't make it hatred.

Guin, while I do sympathize with your outrage, you have been out reasoned and out argued about this issue, legally, with respect to knowing the community, and understanding what really happened in this case. And not by me. Which brings me to my second point-what are you going to do about the situation? You can whine all you want, but what's done is done. What are you going to do to stop it from happening again? If you aren't willing to take some action, even if that action is just voting against members of the board who caused the lawsuit, then what's the point of all of this?

Sara

0

Guinevere 5 years, 6 months ago

Sara - my last comment as this is dragging out too long - I chose to comment (or whine as you put it) on this for reasons that are obvious from my posts, no need to go through it all again. And yes, I do understand what really happened in this case. It shouldn't be that surprising that your father's name would come up. I wouldn't attach so much importance to this blog - I would say there are few people reading and certainly very few commenting. As far as keeping this from happening again - it probably won't as both the school board and city council will now have to pay lawyers more $ to review every word of every motion to go into exec. session for fear of a Pilot lawsuit.

0

aichempty 5 years, 6 months ago

Guin,

Nice backhand.

In reality, nobody has to pay their lawyers more money to review every opinion. If they are doing such a thing, it's to protect themselves from personal liability. They should either (1) learn the law and obey it or (2) hire a private lawyer to advise them at their own expense or (3) resign from the board and let someone with normal intelligence take the position.

Nobody needs a lawyer to see that a speed limit sign says 25. This issue is no more complicated than obeying a traffic sign.

The only time a legal opinion might be required is when a closed session is contemplated. Easy solution. Don't hold closed sessions. End of problem.

0

Duke_bets 5 years, 6 months ago

You are all just repeating yourselves. Refer to the post by Duke_bets on 6/8/09.

The board screwed up and the Pilot did the job they are paid to do. That produced a $90,000 hit to the district. That's one expensive lesson.

0

aichempty 5 years, 5 months ago

Duke,

You're repeating yourself too, but you're still right.

0

Sara Gleason 5 years, 5 months ago

So Guin-

Let me get this straight. I am not supposed to care whether my dad's name gets dragged through the dirt? I am supposed to let it go, even when I know what really happened? And if there are so few people reading this blog, why do different people randomly come up to me to tell me they agree with what I'm saying? Guin, you are either refusing to look at the facts or are incapable of comprehending them. The fact is that the people you entrusted with your tax dollars are wasting them after they have been warned that their actions may result in a lawsuit, and your reaction is "it probably won't happen again?" We can only hope, but, unfortunately, history is not on your side. Quite frankly, if you aren't going to do something about it (educate voters, run for office yourself, encourage people to actually learn about their candidate's agendas, or even commit to voting against the people on the board who allowed this to happen, etc.), your outrage comes across as manufactured. So I will not reply to your rhetoric unless you answer my question-what actions are you going to take to stop this same situation from happening again?

Scott-Good job trying to reason with someone who makes up their own definitions.

ai-usually I disagree with you, but I guess this shows just how odd this actual situation is, huh? I will admit though, that when I went in front of Judge Garrecht, he was very fair and treated me no differently from anyone else in the court room, excepting that he knew my name. If anything odd happened, I would believe that it really had nothing to do with him and was more wishful court politics than something else.

Viper-still like to hear from you buddy.

0

aichempty 5 years, 5 months ago

Sara,

I don't claim that Judge Garrecht exerted any influence on this process. However, anyone who thinks that others may not have acted in a way that benefited his wife just isn't keeping up with current events. Do I need to remind you that the Court of Appeals reversed the opinion of the District Court which found no fault by the local school board? That means the District Court was not on lawful grounds when the school board position was upheld. Such a simple thing, yet a member of the Colorado judiciary made an error so obvious that no analysis was required, and no precedent was set.

You need to learn to recognize the fact that when a judge knows you're right, but doesn't like what you're doing, ruling against you on reversible grounds for appeal is a way of dragging the case out and costing you more money to continue fighting for your rights.

In my own case, if I had applied for law school when the first court papers were filed, I could have finished and taken the bar exam in time to represent myself before the final appeal was decided. Most people don't have that kind of time and money to wait for a case to be resolved. It just so happens that I had the time, and there wasn't much money involved. I ended up paying as much in court costs and my own legal fees as the other side claimed (fraudulently) that I owed them, but my satisfaction is that they spent three times what I did and never collected one red cent.

In this case, the board members are the losers, but the taxpayers are stuck with the bill. Maybe this will be a campaign issue and some changes for the better will be made by the voters.

The bigger issue is that judges are immune to actions for civil damages even when they intentionally and maliciously disobey the law. The $90k ought to come from the State, just like our misspent $18,000,000 for the Kangaroo Kourthouse, since the State of Colorado is the government entity that allows these abuses to occur.

The legal profession is supposed to be self-regulating. So are the state courts. This allows them to abuse their power at our expense, and if the truth be known, the cost of our failed legal system is the reason why health care and insurance costs are out of sight. If defendants in civil and criminal cases were allowed to pay what a state-employed attorney actually makes for an hour's labor, we'd have a lot more justice in this country instead of a situation like the one that occurred locally where a family faced bankruptcy to keep a victim of a hate crime out of jail.

Our system is corrupt because we've allowed the people who run it to get rich at our expense. That's what needs to change. The issue is not the bill of $90,000. The real issue is why the bill wasn't 1/4 that much even when it dragged out. It should have been settled for $1000 in the first place, and would have been, if the written laws of the State of Colorado had been obeyed.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.