Free Press Letter: Vote ‘yes’ on government accountability
The recent League of Women Voters’ Ballot Initiative/Proposal forum in Grand Junction had but one deficit — no opportunity to rebut the claims of my opponent, Darren Cook.
I represented the pro-Proposition 104 position, while Darren Cook, president of the local teachers union, Mesa Valley Education Association (MVEA), represented the opposition. Proposition 104, designed by the Libertarian think tank, Independence Institute, and placed on the 2014 ballot by the people of Colorado via the petition-gathering process typical to our direct-democracy initiative system, calls for our Sunshine Laws to be extended to school boards and collective bargaining agreements.
With endorsements from the Denver Post, Durango Herald, Pueblo Chieftain, Eagle County Times, Greeley Tribune, and other newspapers, Proposition 104 is gaining popularity as citizens learn more about its equitable measures to ensure that taxpayer-funded processes of government are open to those whom government exists to serve, in this case, parents, students, and everyone else interested in the quality of public education.
However, Mr. Cook, during his six-minute speech — making the case against transparency in school board contract negotiations — warned the League of Women Voters’ audience of all manner of ills that would follow should Prop 104 be enacted: “Hallway conversations,” “chaotic meetings,” dogs and cats living together in sin! BEDLAM!
The question that came to my mind as Cook recited his litany of Prop 104 woes was: When someone starts listing all the doom and gloom “unintended consequences” of government transparency, what does he have to hide?
I believe that Mr. Cook, and the teachers union he represents, are afraid of the intended consequences of Proposition 104: Transparency and accountability.
I noted as I walked into the forum, held at the Grand Junction City Hall auditorium, that a member of the Mesa County Valley School Board, Greg Mikolai, was conducting a tête-à-tête with Darren Cook. This briefing confirmed what I’ve long suspected — that some members of the local school board are vested in the actions of the MVEA teachers union. Mikolai won reelection to his seat in 2013 largely due to the get-out-the-vote efforts of the MVEA and funding from the state teachers union. This, folks, is why teachers unions and some school board members want opacity in their meetings.
Teachers unions support Democrats by an overwhelming margin. Democrats such as Greg Mikolai, elected to positions on school boards benefit from the opacity of collective bargaining with unions. Think about it: School boards determine contracts for teachers, dues from teacher paychecks go to the local union, the local unions funds the campaigns of Democrat candidates for school board.
According to Mr. Cook, the MVEA has 900 members. That is a small fraction of the personnel who serve nearly 23,000 students in the district. However, the MVEA constitutes a powerful political PAC whose support typically goes to candidates who represent no more than 50 percent of the parents and taxpayers of MCVSD 51. In conservative Mesa County, the percentage of Democrats is about one-third of the population, with Independents and Republicans making a pretty even split between the three factions. I’ve always found teachers union involvement in school board elections a little incestuous. Teachers unions fund campaigns to elect Democrats with dues from the teachers whose contracts are negotiated by the very people they elect! When applied to any other sector of government, phrases such as “conflict of interest” and “money laundering” would be applicable.
According to Mr. Cook, Proposition 104 is opposed by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). He also indicated that after a great deal of consideration, that he, as president of the MVEA, also opposes transparency in school board negotiations — which makes perfect sense! All the above organizations oppose transparency because they have never been subjected to the scrutiny that Colorado’s Open Meeting laws require for other governmental bodies! Why do school executives, school boards, and teachers unions oppose Proposition 104? Because, secrecy is their friend, opacity is their shield from accountability.
Finally, the opponents of Proposition 104 have complained that its passage would “take away local control.” That’s nonsense. School boards would still conduct meetings and negotiations as they have always done, with the only difference being the requirement to do it in the open. Case in point:
Douglas County and Jefferson County school boards, with new representation, over the past few years have attempted to exert local control by opening their collective bargaining agreements to public scrutiny. These efforts by local entities to break away from opaque dealings involving elected officials was opposed by the teachers unions! No folks, it’s not about local control, it’s about union control.
Mr. Cook spoke of all the horrendous “intended consequences” of open school board meetings, but I believe what he and the union he represents fear are the intended consequences of transparency and school board accountability to the people.
Vote “yes” on government transparency and accountability. Vote “yes” on Proposition 104.
Marjorie Haun is a former public school teacher, having spent many years in special education in Los Angeles and Grand Junction. She’s the author of the children’s historical non-fiction series, “The Heroes of the Vietnam War: Books for Children” and currently makes her living as a freelance writer and contactor in western Colorado. She’s an unabashed Reagan Republican, Tea Party agitator, and fire-breathing Capitalist whose goals are to save the country, and bake the perfect blueberry pie.
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