Board to review conduct
School official DeVincentis may have violated policies at Monday meeting
June 13, 2008
Steamboat Springs — In the wake of Monday’s contentious Steamboat Springs School Board meeting, questions remain about the ethical behavior of board members and how that behavior could impact the school district.
Monday’s lengthy meeting culminated in the nonrenewal of Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knezevich’s contract, by a 3-2 School Board vote. During the proceedings, which included much public discussion of Knezevich’s tenure and the status of his contract, School Board member John DeVincentis accused fellow board member Laura Anderson of improperly meeting with critics of Knezevich before the meeting.
But DeVincentis’ comments, made in open session, might have violated the School Board’s code of conduct.
According to board policy, any board member who has concerns about another board member must express the concerns in executive session, and only after repeated violations can the accusations be made public.
Although Anderson denied the allegations Monday, DeVincentis said he filed a letter to “the state ethics committee” to review Anderson’s actions. Knezevich said Tuesday that he planned to “see where this goes,” referring to the letter and its possible ramifications – such as a state review of the School Board’s vote on his contract.
But as of Thursday afternoon, it was unclear what ethics committee DeVincentis could contact.
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Megan McDermott, assistant communications director for the Colorado Department of Education, said there is no such ethics committee within the department.
Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, also said there was no ethics committee with that association, and the group holds no authority over school boards even if a complaint was lodged. Lauren Kingsbery, a retired attorney for the association, said there was very little oversight of local school boards by state agencies and that she was unsure what ethics board would receive the complaint.
“I don’t know of any ethics board that would have jurisdiction over a local school board,” she said. “The board should wrestle with it and deal with it.”
DeVincentis could have referred the letter to the Independent Ethics Commission, a state board established to create oversight for local governments. The commission is able to render opinions and force penalties for unethical financial gains, but it does not hold jurisdiction over the board members.
Anderson on Thursday said she did not want to respond to any accusations and was unsure what DeVincentis was specifically accusing.
DeVincentis was not available for comment Thursday.
After Monday’s meeting, DeVincentis also confronted the board members who voted to not renew Knezevich’s contract and used profanities to describe their actions, several witnesses said.
School Board President Robin Crossan, Anderson and School Board Vice President Denise Connelly voted to not renew Knezevich’s contract. DeVincentis and Lisa Brown voted for a renewal.
Michael Loomis, a former local School Board member, was among the crowd that remained after the board’s vote.
“I did see that John was yelling at several people, including myself,” he said. “He did throw a few profanities at me as he was on his way out.”
Loomis said those comments, and the accusations during the open meeting, violated the board’s policies and are subject to review.
DeVincentis has not explained his comments to other board members, but he requested the issue be revisited at their next meeting.
“At John’s request, we have put the code of conduct on the agenda for the June 23 meeting,” Crossan said.
The board also will meet Wednesday for a facilitated discussion about board policies, but Crossan said that four-hour meeting is a continuation of previous conferences and the board will not have time to discuss Monday’s fallout.
She also said she doesn’t think the emotional outbursts will have a lasting effect on the board.
“I believe we are five professional individuals who will be able to work together as a board. We were elected to serve the public, and that’s what we will move forward doing,” Crossan said.
Connelly said she hopes the issue will be resolved quickly.
“I hope there will not be any other repercussion. I hope that calmer minds will prevail and we can get back to the running of the district,” Connelly said. “We have a lot of things on our plate.”
Among those is the appointment of an interim principal for the high school. In a Thursday e-mail, interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser said she will work with the incoming superintendent, Shalee Cunningham, to recommend an interim principal before Knezevich leaves. Although his contract extends until July 31, his last day on the job is June 30.