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Concerns raised after Jeffco School Board majority approves separate attorney

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Questions abound after the three newly-elected Jeffco School Board members approved a contract for a Colorado Springs-based lawyer in a new board attorney position without disclosing the cost or terms of the contract during the regular meeting on Thursday.

Board President Ken Witt surprised members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman at the meeting when he stated that he wanted to approve a contract for an attorney to represent the Board of Education separately from the Jeffco Schools chief legal counsel.

Dahlkemper and Fellman had been given the names of two potential candidates only two days before the meeting, but no details about cost or scope of work had been included.

“We have to have public dialogue,” Fellman said. “We want to make sure we have the transparency of moving forward with our public."

“The cost implications are huge,” said Dahlkemper, who questioned whether the board would ask him to attend all meetings or simply bring him in for specific situations, such as an expulsion hearing.

The cost for an attorney to attend every meeting would be considerably higher than one brought in only for specific situations.

Witt declined to discuss how the attorney’s services might be used or what the terms of compensation are.

Witt had apparently given board members John Newkirk and Julie Williams prior notice of his intentions and both had contacted the two candidates.

Williams said that she had interviewed both candidates.

Newkirk said he had “reached out” to both candidates and had talked to Brad Miller of Miller Sparks LLC as recently as the Colorado Association of School Boards annual convention. The CASB convention took place Dec. 5 through 8 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs—a week before the Dec. 12 regular board meeting.

The actions could run afoul of Colorado’s “Sunshine Laws,” which require public business to be conducted in public. Under the law email correspondence can be considered a meeting, which the law defines as “any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business."

As of Friday evening, no contract information has been added to the Jeffco Schools BoardDocs site, where all contracts and other business voted on by the school board is made available to the public. Typically, contracts and other pertinent information are made available in the agenda so that the public can see the details of the contracts and other issues the board considers.

Although Witt did not provide the board or the public with information about the terms of compensation, the Loveland Reporter-Herald states that Thompson School Board is currently considering a contract with Miller’s firm, Miller Sparks LLC, to represent their school board at hourly rates of $225 and $205, respectively.

The Reporter-Herald also stated that on Wednesday, Dec. 11, Thompson School Board President Bob Kerrigan told his school board that Miller Sparks was the “Colorado Springs-based law firm that currently represents Jefferson County schools.”

Kerrigan’s comment raises additional questions, because Jeffco’s contract with Miller was not approved until 24 hours later at Jeffco’s regular school board meeting on Thursday and key details of that contract are still not available to the public.

According to the political blog Colorado Pols, Miller was in the audience at Thursday’s meeting.

Miller will serve as the board attorney at Saturday’s board retreat at Wheat Ridge High School. The retreat, which is open to the public, will run from 8 am to 4 pm in the school’s media center.

The Board has been represented by Jeffco Schools chief legal counsel Allen Taggert, who is retiring. A transition plan was already in place for Taggert’s replacement. The new board attorney will not replace the district position but instead be an additional expense.

The motion to approve the contract was met with boos from the audience at the meeting.

Witt said the contract would be on a month-to-month basis, but did not elaborate.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16. A location for the meeting has not been set.

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