A few days from now, when all the arguments have been made and the litigation is finally, mercifully done, we will have the generous taxpayers of Douglas County to thank for clarifying Colorado’s 50-year-old Open Meetings Law once and for all. 

I hope they think it’s worth it.

Our story begins in November 2021 when voters elected an extreme conservative slate to dominate the Douglas County School Board, which was not exactly a lefty bunch in the first place.

These kinds of elections used to be snoozers in which well-meaning citizens graciously stepped up to help guide educators in the complex process of decision-making for thousands of diverse children in the community. Then, along came the politically expedient culture wars and all hell broke loose.

Douglas County voters were swept up in the frenzy.

Almost immediately after the conservatives won the majority, those angry white people on the Douglas County board started flexing their muscles. There was no time to waste with transparency, community involvement or legal niceties. They had a dragon to slay, and his name was Corey Wise.

Wise is an improbable villain.

He began his career as a student teacher in Douglas County Schools, where he went on to become a teacher, assistant principal, founding principal of Legend High School, a district administrator and, in 2020 after 25 years in the trenches, was named superintendent of schools. 

His kids went to Douglas County Schools and, known for being an even-handed, nice guy, he was beloved by teachers and students alike.

None of that mattered.

During his brief tenure as superintendent, the previous board approved an equity policy for the district that brazenly stated the district “shall offer and afford every student and staff member equitable educational opportunities….” 


In Douglas County, them’s fighting words.

Now, it’s worth noting that the policy was not imposed unilaterally by Wise but was the product of years of thoughtful work by members of the community.

The conservatives on the board didn’t care.

Giddy from the thrill of their new majority, they needed to show their constituents just how committed they were to inequity. Over the objections of 65 principals and staff members, the board rescinded the equity policy.

Then they got power-trippy.

In a series of one-on-one meetings designed to skirt the Open Meetings Law, the four conservatives decided to fire Wise for … something, anything.

Once they had their four votes at hand, they brought the issue to the full board and brought the hammer down. 

The conservative board members say they are innocent, they were just having friendly coffee. But Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said once the two board members who started the conversation to fire Wise contacted other board members and relayed the conversation from their initial meeting, it qualified as a “serial” or “daisy-chain” meeting in violation of the law.

“If public bodies are allowed to meet like this and discuss business outside of public view and make decisions outside of public view,” Roberts said, “what good is the Open Meetings law?”


Douglas County resident Robert Marshall wholeheartedly agreed.

Marshall, who has since been elected a state representative, filed a lawsuit charging the four conservative members of the board — Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Kaylee Winegar and Christy Williams — with violating the Open Meetings Law. The trial is scheduled for June 12 before Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes.

Steve Zansberg, who represents Marshall in the case, maintains the board members (somewhat cluelessly) admitted to violating the law in their defense filings when they said they contacted other board members “to relay” the discussion about firing Wise.

In his ruling on the preliminary injunction in the case last year, Judge Holmes seemed to signal agreement on that premise.

“Circumventing the statute by a series of private one-on-one meetings at which public business is discussed and/or decisions reached is a violation of the purpose of the statute, not just its spirit,” he wrote.

The board members refuse to admit guilt, however, and have rejected a settlement in the case, common sense and the rule of law be damned.

So, the meter keeps running on the legal expenses, which Colorado Public Radio reports are close to $100,000 for the district so far. A loss in the courts could result in the district being ordered to pay for similar legal fees for Marshall and possibly a penalty.

An appeal would run the legal bills even higher.

All that on top of the $832,000 paid to Wise in the settlement of his wrongful termination case makes the goal of preserving inequity in the district a pretty exorbitant bit of ego-tripping for the board members who profess to be conservatives, whatever that means anymore.

As the 19th century comedian known as Josh Billings said, “The road to ruin is in good repair and the travelers pay the expense of it.”

I hope Douglas County taxpayers are enjoying the ride.

And you thought it was just the Denver School Board that was dysfunctional.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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