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Concern about the process used to appoint the newest Douglas County School Board member has prompted board member Judi Reynolds to draft guidelines for future appointments.
Reynolds was one of two board members who voted against Rich Robbins, who was picked to fill an empty board seat. Reynolds said her concern is with the process — not the person — and extends beyond the swift, silent March 25 vote for Robbins' appointment.
She hopes to introduce her proposed policy during the next general board meeting on April 15.
“The whole process in my mind wasn't as laid out as I thought it should be,” she said. “I'm working on what I hope will end up being board policy to standardize the entire process, not just that final part of the process, to make it more transparent.”
Robbins, a UPS Freight supervisor who supports the board's education reform policies, was among six finalists interviewed during a special March 25 meeting. He was the only candidate nominated and was chosen on a 4-2 vote, with Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn in opposition. Board president Kevin Larsen did not open the motion to discussion, and the other board members offered no comment.
Some of other board members, finalists and audience members were surprised, believing the nomination would be discussed and that other candidates might also be proposed before a final vote was taken.
“It was abrupt,” Silverthorn said. “I thought we should have had more conversation around things like qualifications, just a discussion of any kind. I don't know what other people's opinions were on any of the nominees because we didn't talk about it. I wasn't ready to make a determination.”
Silverthorn said the two-part interview process leading up to Robbins' appointment was “great.”
“I wish we would have followed that through to a more logical conclusion,” she said.
When board member Carrie Mendoza was appointed in March 2013, then-president John Carson asked for discussion about her nomination three times. Five of the sitting board members commented before the unanimous vote for Mendoza was taken. Mendoza also was the second candidate considered; a nomination for Reynolds did not receive enough “aye” votes to move forward.
Board member Jim Geddes agreed the recent vote was quick, but said he saw no need for discussion.
“I voted for the guy I thought would be most in line with my philosophy on things,” he said. “If somebody was not in favor it, it would have been their responsibility to begin the discussion.
“Some folks have suggested there might be some collusion going on. That's just not the case. It's unfortunate it made it look like we were maybe treating it lightly. But I think all of us were very serious about evaluating each candidate and making our choice very carefully.”
Robbins' appointment was particularly sensitive for some, given the close nature of the 2013 school board race. Several community members had lobbied the board to select someone with different viewpoints.
Finalist David Ray, a former Douglas County School District principal, said he could have filled that role.
“I think that's what's desperately needed,” he said. “I've never seen our district, community or even our staff in such a depressed state in terms of what's happening. I really was yearning for a signal they wanted to move beyond that divisiveness and really add a different perspective. I felt like this was an opportunity they really missed.”
Finalist Dilpreet Jammu, a member of DCSD's Long Range Planning Committee, said the appointment process was not well-defined, and the end result unsurprising.
“I wasn't surprised, given how things have evolved in terms of politics and our board,” he said. “I believe they picked the candidate who's best for what their needs are, whatever those are. I certainly hope the gentleman makes good, solid decisions.”
Retired teacher Gary Colley, another finalist, said the quick action was “unfortunate.”
“There was no explanation why he was the best candidate,” he said. “Unfortunately, it creates the wrong impression. It's no big loss if I didn't get selected, but surely you wouldn't bring on a pro-board supporter when you're trying to get the confidence of the community back.”
Robbins said he had no say-so in the process.
“Whether it's the right process or the wrong process, or whether the process needs to be tweaked or not, that'll be something we need to hear from the public, and probably sit down and look at as a board,” he said.
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