Editorial: CMC’s board shouldn’t muzzle its members
This is pretty simple. The Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees is not a private body and mustn’t behave like one.
Trustees are elected and are the public’s only voice in allocating nearly $47 million that residents of six counties pay in property taxes that provide two-thirds of the college’s budget.
It is wrong and wrongheaded for these unpaid trustees to be limited in what they can tell their constituents about their work and their views. So the very idea of censuring an elected official for sharing with the public opinions on issues before the board is jaw-droppingly troubling.
But the board in June seriously considered censuring Trustee Mary Ellen Denomy of Battlement Mesa over letters she wrote to western Colorado editors explaining why she would vote against budget provisions.
A motion by Summit County Trustee Patricia Theobald was tabled only after Board President Glenn Davis demanded that Denomy pledge not to write more letters to the editor before an upcoming board retreat. Davis says that whether the motion is revived depends on how discussions go at the retreat.
The board has a policy, most recently revised in 2014 on a 5-1 vote, that after a decision, “each board member supports the final determination of the board concerning any particular matter, regardless of the member’s personal position concerning such matter.”
In addition, “the board president is the only spokesperson for the Board of Trustees.”
A couple of notes at this juncture: Denomy’s letters to the editor came before “final determination” was made on the issues at hand. It’s also worth mentioning that she cast the dissenting vote back in 2014 on the rules, which we consider contrary to the public interest.
In an interview last week, Davis said the board policies are not meant to stifle anyone’s First Amendment rights.
Could have fooled us, because this sounds like an effort to cow Denomy into silence with a threat of official condemnation for communicating with her constituents.
Theobald’s motion accuses Denomy of “repeated, serious violations of the responsibilities of [a] trustee of Colorado Mountain College … engaging in a public campaign through newspapers across the district to mislead the readers by publishing the minority opinion [and] expressing condemnation of the board and disapproval of properly approved actions by the board. This conduct can only be intended to cause overwhelming damage to the college.”
What caused this “overwhelming damage?”
Denomy wrote a letter in May opposing a transfer of tax money to the nonprofit CMC Foundation; and a second letter in June saying she would vote against a raise, bonus and contract extension for college President and CEO Carrie Hauser. Denomy also said in her second letter she would vote against the overall budget for 2016-17 because she was opposed to “raising tuition on some of our most-deserving students and increasing spending for projects that do not directly enhance the education of our students.”
While we plan to further research the practice of transferring tax money to a private foundation, this editorial isn’t about the merits of Denomy’s positions.
CMC is among western Colorado’s most important institutions. We think Hauser is a good leader with a strong vision for making education broadly attainable, supporting students and working to make their high school years more valuable. We particularly appreciate that the college is one of the few institutions around here that is proactively inclusive of our large population of immigrant families.
This editorial is about Denomy’s certain right — we would deem it an obligation — to share her views with taxpayers.
We are concerned that Theobald’s motion is indicative of efforts to foster a cloistered culture in which dissent is punished.
In 2013, when Denomy faced re-election, she was opposed by Jay Rickstrew, who now is on the CMC Foundation board. In 2015, when Carbondale Trustee Kathy Goudy, who believes the censure motion is inappropriate and who asks a lot of questions in her board role, faced re-election, she was opposed by former CMC Foundation board chairman Jon Warnick. Theobald also is a former foundation board chair, and Davis is a former foundation board member, as is Trustee Charles Cunniffe.
While Denomy and Goudy won their re-election campaigns, we don’t think the residents of the CMC district — Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Routt, Lake and Summit counties — really want a revolving door of trustees between the private CMC Foundation and the public college governing board, particularly when the latter is sending tax money to the former.
Davis doesn’t think the CMC board is like a city council or county commission, saying, “I see this a bit more like the governing board for a lot of either nonprofit or private enterprise organizations.”
It’s an elected body that represents taxpayers and allocates our money. Denomy or any other trustee must be free to communicate with those constituents who are paying the freight.
As Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition said, her desire to explain her position and make policy-making transparent “shouldn’t just be honored; it should be celebrated.”
If damage is being done to CMC it is through Theobald’s effort to intimidate a dissenter into silence.
The board and the college have no real reason to fear transparency or criticism.
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