Public officials inevitably serve as role models. When in the public eye, “the whole world is watching.”
That includes children. Today’s youth can learn to respect adults with authority and follow their example, or they can become disenchanted due to dishonesty and corruption.
So it is incredibly disappointing how blatantly dishonest the Douglas County School District Board of Education has been, both in public statements and under oath in court. Such prevarication, delivered with an arrogant demeanor and lack of contrition, sends a cynical message to the district’s 63,000 students.
I filed the lawsuit under Colorado’s Open Meeting Law to challenge the school board directors who illegally decided among themselves that they would terminate the contract of a 26-year DCSD veteran, Superintendent Corey Wise. The Court issued a preliminary injunction forbidding them from engaging in their illegal conduct, finding that their behavior was “a violation of the purpose of the statute, not just its spirit.”
As the Court recognized, all I requested was: “that the board do what the statute requires.”
What transpired at the Feb. 25 court hearing, however, is more troubling than the intentional violation of Sunshine Laws. Three of four majority directors, including Board President Mike Peterson and Vice-President Christy Williams, testified that they had not made any “decision” concerning Wise’s employment until the Board’s Feb. 4 meeting.
They said this with straight faces and under oath. We did not subpoena them. They voluntarily came into court, took the stand, raised their right hand, took an oath to tell the truth . . . and lied.
All the evidence, including their own recorded phone conversations, proved their in-court assertions false. Even their in-court testimony conflicted with their statements that they had not come to a decision regarding Wise’s employment before the Feb. 4 meeting.
Williams testified that on Jan. 28 she and Peterson told Superintendent Wise he had four options: (1) resign, (2) retire, (3) fired for cause, or (4) fired without cause.
There were audible scoffs in the courtroom at their claim that those options did not amount to a decision on Wise’s employment. At the same time, Peterson’s recorded conversation had him claiming he had — before the Feb. 4 meeting —four “committed” votes to remove Wise.
Any child understands these “options” provided a singular choice: leave voluntarily or involuntarily. But you will leave.
Yet under oath, each declared that there had not yet been any decision with respect to Wise’s continued employment until the Feb. 4 meeting.
More than a thousand people observed the meeting where the school board voted, 4-3, to terminate Wise’s contract. And thousands heard the accounts of Peterson and Williams denying that they had not decided to remove Wise until the Feb. 4 meeting.
The gap between what people saw and heard, compared to their courtroom testimony, is insurmountable. It was beyond duplicitous. It violates one of the Ten Commandments.
And now, not only does the Board majority want to appeal a decision that simply tells them to “follow the law,” but they intend to do so with funds meant to educate children.
The school’s insurance provider refuses to defend the suit. The board knew this in the middle of February, yet failed to disclose this or the reasons why the insurer denied coverage. I regard this as evidence that there was an intentional violation of state law, not a negligent one.
Children look up to public officials, for better or worse. And the realm of acceptable behavior is modeled upon those observations. Whether it is a sitting president denying, under oath, that he “did not have sexual relations with” a woman; or school board directors falsely testifying that they hadn’t made any decision, when they obviously had; our children – future leaders – are watching.
The students and the community served by the Douglas County School District deserve better.
Robert C. Marshall, of Highlands Ranch, is an attorney and retired Marine Corps officer.
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