Dougco's Toxic Trio Talks the Talk, Once Again Fails to Walk the Walk

Last month, I wrote about how the Douglas County School District Board of Education’s anti-reform Toxic Trio—Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray—abrogated their duties as elected officials by refusing to accept board majority member Doug Benevento’s resignation from the board. In so doing, they signaled their willingness to leave tens of thousands of Dougco residents without representation on the school board and ensure deadlock on most important issues.

Benevento’s resignation was accepted a short time later, but only after Benevento himself felt awkwardly obligated to come back to accept his own resignation—an unprecedented scenario to the best of my knowledge. Since then, the district has embarked on a process designed to fill the vacancy in accordance with board policy and the law.  Meanwhile, the Toxic Trio has continued to incessantly lecture their school board colleagues about the importance of “following policy and the law.” They have continued sermonize at every opportunity about the criticality of transparency and openness with “the community.”

I happen to agree with both points. Policy and the law must be followed, and transparency is critically important. But all this proselytizing begs an important question: Why don’t they put their money where their collective mouths are?

In truth, Ray, Lemieux, and Vogel have shown little interest in board policy or the law unless it suits their political purposes. They leveled all sorts of legal and policy-related accusations at Dougco Board of Education President Meghann Silverthorn and Vice President Judi Reynolds following their meeting with a student about a planned protest. An independent investigation later completely cleared the two board majority members of any of the violations alleged by the board minority—and even pointed out that the Toxic Trio themselves may have violated the district’s code of conduct during the controversy. Not satisfied with the legal opinion of the independent attorney, the Toxic Trio and their supporters proceeded to question the report’s validity, creating a number of interesting (and unfounded) conspiracy theories along the way. So much for fervent observance of the letter of the law.

More recently, and as I mentioned above, the three board minority members attempted to stonewall the vacancy-filling process by refusing to accept Benevento’s resignation. I’ve seen a lot of silly stuff on school boards, but this particular political maneuver was and will likely remain the most astonishing failure to govern responsibly I’ve ever seen at the district level. Even after the resignation was accepted, board minority member David Ray attempted to illegally force whoever filled the vacant seat to abide by Benevento’s term limit, which would have prevented him from running again in 2017. Put more simply, Ray attempted to dictate who could or could not run for Benevento’s seat in 2017. (See Ray’s comments for yourself at about 10:30 of this video.) Thankfully, he was set straight by Dan Domenico, the board’s attorney.

Not content with asserting their will by throwing a wrench into the works of a statutorily required process, the Toxic Trio tried everything they could at last night’s meeting to break with policy-based vacancy procedures, sabotage the process, and swing the final decision in favor of their chosen candidate. (The debacle starts at about 1:20:00 in this video.)

Then, to top it all off, the board minority members attempted to hijack the board entirely by putting forward a motion to fill the vacancy with one of their candidates after board majority member Jim Geddes left the meeting late into the evening, leaving them with a 3-2 advantage (you can see this cute little ambush for yourself at about 5:39:00 in the same video linked above.) As icing on the cake, they also attempted to remove Meghann Silverthorn as president of the board, selflessly offering minority member David Ray as her replacement.

This attempted coup was almost as outrageous as the time they attempted to subvert democracy and force Silverthorn and Reynolds from their seats during the “bullying” controversy—an attempt, I might add, that involved bringing forward an unscheduled action item in the middle of public comment (see 1:30:00 of this video for this political maneuver, but be warned: It’s ugly stuff.) Again, this stunt flew directly in the face of established board policy, rules of order, and procedure.

Even after Silverthorn and Reynolds walked out of last night’s meeting—the only possible response to the absurdity of the Toxic Trio’s political angling since the Trio would not have allowed an official adjournment vote to proceed with their 3-2 advantage—the three board minority members tried to claim they had a quorum and attempted to press ahead with their hostile takeover of the board.

Yet again, the Toxic Trio seemed completely unconcerned with board policy. A five-second glance at Board File BE/BEA/BEB would have told these members that a quorum is defined as four board members in Douglas County. Yet the three of them sat there for ages trying to call their attorney to decide whether they could or could not successfully complete their mission to hijack the board. One would think that a group of people who so zealously advocate for rigorous compliance with board policy and statute would have simply followed the procedure laid out before them and accepted the fact that, thanks to those pesky democratic elections from which the board majority sprang in the first place, they might not get their way. Instead, Ray, Lemieux, and Vogel attempted to blow up the process and force their will upon the board the second an opportunity presented itself.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. For folks who constantly grandstand about the importance of law and policy and procedure, the members of the Toxic Trio seem awfully willing to throw those things out the window when it suits their political purposes. And for folks who love to opine about transparency and the value of making sure “their community” knows what’s going on, they seem awfully comfortable with wrapping their intentions in dense political shrouds and employing rhetorical smokescreens.

Shouldn’t these board members be held to the same standard they’ve repeatedly demanded the board majority members meet? Shouldn’t they live up to their own expectations and those of Douglas County citizens? Shouldn’t they put their money where their collective mouths are?

You bet they should. And they should start at the very next board meeting.