Jeffco school board decision raises questions about transparency

From The Denver Post: The Jefferson County school board’s new majority may have skirted a law that requires them to conduct business openly by hiring an attorney without a public interview process, according to an open government expert.

Thomas Kelley, a lawyer for the Colorado Press Association and The Denver Post, said the board’s 3-2 decision last week to hire Colorado Springs-based law firm Miller Sparks LLC may have violated the state’s open meetings act, which requires board members to conduct business in public.

“It’s not all that common for a board of a public entity to, by itself, conduct interviews, but when they do, at least when it doesn’t involve interviews for a personnel position, they have to do those interviews in public,” Kelley said.

Led by board president Ken Witt, the majority hired Miller Sparks to represent the school board without seeking proposals for the contract, publicly vetting the candidates or getting cost estimates. Witt and board members Julie Williams and John Newkirk — who were elected in November on a conservative platform — did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The school district already has an attorney but the new board members wanted their own representation. Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman said they were not against considering the idea but believed the process lacked transparency.

“Whenever the board makes a decision involving taxpayer dollars we have to have a strong rationale to support that decision,” Dahlkemper said. “We have to be able to say ‘here is why we made this decision;’ and we hadn’t even talked about the most basic of questions regarding this attorney.”

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