As DPS' School Board President, Nate Easley's Gotta Go

Nate Easley cannot be an effective leader for Denver's school board. All doubt was removed by Easley's actions and behavior during the DPS Board of Education work session on November 15.
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Nate Easley cannot be an effective leader for Denver's school board. All doubt was removed by Easley's actions and behavior during the Denver Public Schools Board of Education work session held on November 15. During this session, it became clear that Easley is nothing but a self-aggrandizing education dilettante working for his own benefit with little regard for how to bring a divided school district together so that the students of Denver receive a quality education.

Why say this? Well, Easley's handling of the issue surrounding the censure of three school board members has been a complete fiasco, the type of thing that gets put in a business case as the example of how not to conduct yourself should you sit in the executive board president's chair.

At issue is the fact that three DPS board members attended a meeting of the Colorado Lawyers Committee's education task force. According to Easley, by attending the meeting, the board members violated Colorado's Open Meetings Act, aka the Sunshine law, because the meeting was not "noticed" so that other members of the public might have attended.

The board members in question are Arturo Jimenez, Jeannie Kaplan, and Andrea Merida, all of whom make up the vocal minority on DPS' board. Two of these board members, Kaplan and Merida, attended the meeting to answer questions about the planning process associated with the far NE Denver education plan unveiled by DPS on October 13. The third, Jimenez, said he attended because he does pro bono work for the CLC and was curious after hearing that DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg had attended an earlier meeting of the task force.

To help bolster his interpretation of the law, Nate Easley sought the legal opinion of DPS' special counsel, Martin Semple. (Semple has built a practice around public and private-sector labor and employment law [see his qualifications here].) Semple agreed with Easley: the Open Meetings Act requirements had been violated by the three board members. Presumably DPS paid for Semple's opinion.

The issue facing Nate Easley is that he failed to coordinate with his fellow board members before going to the press about the supposed Sunshine Law violation. He did not talk to the three board members whom he believed may have violated the law. He did not reach out to the other three board members who did not attend the meeting. Instead, Easley went to the Denver Post , saying "We are obligated to censure; otherwise our reputation is impugned."

During the meeting last night, Jimenez said he had not heard about there being an issue related to his attendance at the CLC meeting until he arrived at the DPS board room that evening. He said the district had not contacted him. Jimenez also said he does not subscribe to the Denver Post so he was unaware that a story had even run.

Jimenez was not the only board member caught off guard. According to Carolyn Crowder at the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Bruce Hoyt said he had not heard about the issue before the Denver Post article ran on November 11.

During a meeting I had with board member Mary Seawell last week, Seawell said she also had no idea that there was an issue until she read the Post that morning. Seawell also said she was concerned that a meeting with three board members had taken place without the public being told.

By taking these actions, Nate Easley circumvented the board's ability to govern its own members. If a violation had occurred, Easley should censure the offending board members. However, by proceeding in the manner in which he did, Easley robbed three school board members of their due process related to an accusation that is very likely incorrect.

Denver attorney Mark Grueskin (see here for more information about Grueskin) was retained by DCTA to examine the issue surrounding the CLC meeting and if the three Board members had violated the Open Meetings Act. DCTA paid for Grueskin's legal opinion because the union had also been in attendance at the CLC meeting. Crowder said DCTA wanted to make sure it was not involved in a violation of the Sunshine law.

Grueskin's opinion is that DCTA was not involved in such an incident, that no legal requirements associated with the Open Meeting Act had been violated, and that the three DPS board member did nothing wrong in attending the CLC task force's meeting.

What has become clear is that some questions need to be answered about Easley's handling of this event:

  1. Did Easley go to the Denver Post on his own or did he first consult DPS staff, or superintendent Tom Boasberg?
  2. Why didn't Easley seek information from all seven board members and DPS legal counsel before he went to the press? This seems like a logical first step if he were concerned about the issue and the board being impugned if it did not take the correct action.
  3. Who authorized the expenditure of public funds to engage Semple as counsel related to this matter? Did DPS staff or superintendent Boasberg make this decision? Clearly the board as a whole did not do this, as most seemed surprised Semple was at the board work session in the first place. Did superintendent Boasberg make this decision? Why didn't Grueskin's opinion suffice? After all, no attorney in the state has a better reputation related to issues of public entity regulation and election law.

Nate Easley did not respond to my request for an interview related to these questions.

Through his actions, Easley has done irreparable harm to his own ability to govern. His lack of coordination with his fellow board members related to the issue is embarrassing. It speaks to his inability to be an effective director of DPS. It also speaks to a lack of courage and self confidence. These two traits, along with an ability to foster relationships, are keys to DPS' ability to move forward in a thoughtful, structured manner.

Unfortunately, one year after his election, it is clear Nate Easley does not have the strength of character to lead a school district in the state of disarray DPS finds itself in. In times like these, the last thing any organization needs is for its board president to start a war among his fellow board members. This is exactly what Easley has done, however.

And now Nate Easley must be removed as the president of Denver's school board.

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