May 24 • 50M

Monsters, School Board Allegations, and Kahunas--Oh my! (and the post office too)

An update on the Kovo Mendoza Disposition Hearing, new allegations of the Estes Park School District breaking the Colorado Open Records law, and an interview with Patty Brown about the Kahuna Memorial

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Colorado's Counter Culture Magazine. Covering local arts, music, writing, local breaking news, deep-dive investigative articles, and podcasts based in Estes Park by Journalist, Author, and Artist Jason Van Tatenhove. https://coloradoswitchblade.com
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Original Photography courtesy of Missey Benjamin—blue outline and glow added by the CSB

Today’s episode is packed with updates. Updates on Jacobo Medoza's (Kovo) Disposition Hearing yesterday. The Estes Park School District R-3 Board of Education meeting and talk about new allegations that the School Board may have violated Colorado Open Record laws. We then end the episode by interviewing local Estes Park resident Patty Brown regarding the Big Kahuna memorial project and a quick update on the troubles at the post office.

Here is a copy of the letter circulating through the Estes Park Community (written by the same group that had approximately 150 signatures voicing their opinions on the sudden separation between the district and former Superintendent Sheldon Rosenkrance.):

The undersigned allege that the Estes Park School District Board of Education has violated the law in its recent executive session terminating the Superintendent’s contract before public comment was received and by apparently discussing the action in private communications outside of open meetings requirements. 

The President of the Board of Education of the Estes Park School District has twice insisted that the recent termination / dismissal of Superintendent of Schools Sheldon Rosenkrance was “totally legal”. The response to inquiries and public comment shows a deliberate disregard for transparency, fairness/ethics, the law, and administrative process.

The specific violations of the Colorado Open Meetings law were: 

●      Engaging in private communications between Board members on a matter that is only allowed at open meetings and after public announcement. 

●      Holding a meeting for a formal action and adopting it in an executive (closed) session.

●      Holding a meeting involving the dismissal, discipline, or compensation of an employee that was not open to the public. 

A special session, implying that the decision, voting to terminate Mr. Rosenkrance’s contract, and adopting the “mutual separation” (termination) agreement asks us to accept that all of that was all done in about an hour. While discussing a legal position to take may be done in closed session, any actiontaken at a meeting that has not first had the opportunity for public input violates the Open Meetings law. Another provision, specifically addressing an employment discipline, invites public input unless the employee requests it be closed. The Board made a decision, had an agreement in closed session, voted on it, then had public input at the following regular board meeting.  

 Private communications between Board members regarding a planned action is also illegal. As outlined below, it appears private emails and conversations took place prior to the special session. These must be made public.

This is not how we expect a Board of Education to behave.  Their abuse of power has violated trust in a significant part of the community.  It will take more than just “technically being legal” to regain that trust.

The remedy for the alleged violations, detailed below, as shown by a recent Colorado judicial opinion, is an injunction and/or the voiding or invalidation of the action. Or, given that the newly elected majority won the election by just a handful of votes, a recall would have a likelihood of success, particularly when it appears that the action was taken because of the personal opposition by some Board members to the Superintendent’s administration.  Dismissing him with weeks left in the school year is highly unusual and probably wasted close to $200,000 of District money that does not represent good stewardship of taxpayer funding.

The legal violations under the quoted sections of the COLORADO REVISED STATUTES TITLE 24. GOVERNMENT - STATE ADMINISTRATION ARTICLE 6. COLORADO SUNSHINE LAW PART 4. OPEN MEETINGS LAW C.R.S. 24-6-401 (2012) appear to be as follows:

The following may NOT be done in an executive (closed) session:

no adoption of any proposed …. formal action…shall occur at any executive session that is not open to the public.” (emphasis added)

Additionally, the law expressly adds:

“All ..meetings held…to consider ….the dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of, or the investigation of charges or complaints against ….[an] employee shall be open to the publicunless said applicant, official, or employee requests an executive session.” (emphasis added).  [no evidence of his request has been provided, despite a request]

And to be absolutely clear, the statute adds:

 “upon the announcement by the local public body [the School Board] to the public of the topic for discussion in the executive session……. after such announcement, may hold an executive session only at a regular or special meeting and for the sole purpose of considering any of [certain] …. matters; except that no adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action. …shall occur at any executive session that is not open to the public.

Mr. Rosenkrance agreed to the action, no doubt under some duress, and a legal action to void it would waste more district resources and perhaps his best interest. However, the Board of Education is now on notice that such actions will not be tolerated in the future.

Admittedly, the Board of Education gave the minimum notice of a special meeting to consider the termination of Mr. Rosenkrance, and discussions with legal counsel and considerations of actions may be done in an executive session, including deciding the position to take in a termination action or settlement.

But let’s review the facts, confirmed by the video recording of the special meeting. After the closed session of about an hour, with the Board’s attorney, the Board and Mr. Rosenkrance announced an agreement. Then, the Board voted and adopted the settlement. That is an ACTION. Yes, it was done in open session, but there is no evidence that Mr. Rosenkrance waived his rights to an open session, and public comment was taken AFTER the action.  How was the agenda or the meeting scheduled, how did the attorney come to the meeting, and how were the terms so quickly agreed to, unless the Board members discussed the possible action in private meetings or communications among the Board members.

The law is clear. No action may be taken at a special or general Board meeting WITHOUT BEING OPEN TO THE PUBLIC AND COMMENTS TAKEN. The minutes and video show it was a done deal without abiding by those requirements.

A recent court case in Douglas County, also after a superintendent dismissal, held that one-on-one discussions between School Board meetings “at which public business is discussed and/or decisions reached is a violation of the purpose of the statute, not just its spirit”. This court said the action cannot be simply a “rubber stamp”, as to do so circumvents the legality of the Open Meetings Law. The Board discussions and decisions were not made openly, but in closed session. That is more than simply receiving confidential legal advice.

Sure, at the next open general meeting, the Board heard public comments, but it did not take state the special session was just a proposal. It was a decision. No action or vote was taken after open discussions or public comment.

All of this demonstrates a blatant disregard of transparency, respect of public participation, and apparently, the law.  Similar decisions or actions may result in community action.

Also, if you would like to plug into or support the Kahuna Memorial Project, you can find more information at the following links:

Website: www.kahunamemorial.com

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/KahunaMemorial

Facebook: Kahuna the Elk of Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.facebook.com/groups/357613813065071

Twitter: Kahuna Memorial @JohnCoo87405512


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