If you haven't been paying attention, it may surprise you to know that Denver faces one of the rarer political events in our democracy: recalling a representative from office. It will not surprise anyone that the recall effort is associated with another of Denver Public Schools Board of Education members. This time, however, the effort is not aimed at Andrea Merida, the most polarizing of DPS' board members. It is directed at the Board's president, Nate Easley.
Unlike the attempt to recall Merida, the community of NE Denver seems to be energized around getting rid of Easley. Their reasoning is pretty simple: because of a personal conflict of interest, Easley does not represent his constituents effectively.
The issue of conflicts of interest is at the forefront of Colorado politics at the moment, what with the controversy surrounding recently elected Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Upon taking office, Gessler decided that his government paycheck would not allow him to adequately provide for his family. So, like any good Republican, Gessler will keep a part time job as an attorney practicing election law.
Easley's plight is similar, except that school board representatives do not get paid. Easley works as the Deputy Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, an organization intimately associated with the Denver school system. In fact, District superintendent Tom Boasberg has an active leadership role on the foundation, as does Boasberg's closet school board associate, Theresa Peña. Together, Boasberg and Pena could exert tremendous professional pressure on Easley, who needs a paying job to feed his family.
On the other hand, as Board president, Easley is directly responsible for Boasberg's employment status at DPS. He oversees the preparation of Boasberg's professional evaluation. He has significant influence in Boasberg's compensation package. In theory, Boasberg should think of himself as reporting directly to Easley as long as Easley is Board of Education president.
As is typical in DPS, however, the tail wags the dog. Easley operates like Boasberg's henchman. If Boasberg wants it, Easley delivers. Nowhere is this clearer than in far Northeast Denver, which Easley represents.
In November, Easley voted to support closing schools, opening new charter schools, magnet schools, all with significant community opposition in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch. According to community members, they reached out to Easley on the issues surrounding the plan, and he was unresponsive.
Specifically, Easley missed multiple meetings with groups of community members, which is never a good policy for an elected official. Community members also point out that Easley has failed to notice meetings whereat school board members have discussed public business and made policy decisions, which has just fueled the fire of distrust between Easley and those he represents. Parents cite a general lack of accountability with Easley, who, they say, does not respond to emails or phone calls.
Far NE Denver resident Donna Moore, told me, "That's what Easley was elected to do - meet with us and represent us on the school board. He can't be bothered to do that, so he's got to go."
Most galling to some community members, however, is the belief held by some that Easley used Denver Scholarship Foundation funds to hire someone to interact with the community of NE Denver. In September, a CU Denver student sent an email to a group of community members, stating that he was attending meetings on Easley's behalf and that he was being paid to do so.
"Isn't that money [DSF funds] supposed to be used to help send our kids to college?" asked Jackie Skalecke, a far NE Denver resident and parent of a child at Montbello High School.
At a meeting held last Saturday, approximately 40 community members were volunteering to lead signature gathering efforts on the precinct level in NE Denver. Packets of registered voters sorted by precinct were available, and spirits were high. Plans were made to begin contacting registered voters by phone to facilitate the collection of signatures beginning this weekend.
"It's a lot of signatures, but I know we can do this," Skalecke told a group of parents.
The petition to recall Easley was approved by the Denver Election Commission at 1:00 PM today, January 26.
People interested in seeking information about the recall effort or wishing to participate should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Christopher Scott on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cscottrun4it