Aspen School Board still unclear about appointment | AspenTimes.com

Aspen School Board still unclear about appointment

When it comes to appointing a fifth member, will the Aspen Board of Education do what they said they'd do during the recent campaign, or will they do something else?

That's now the question after two recently elected board members went against their campaign statements and expressed reservations about appointing the person who received the third-highest votes in the school board race last month.

"I do have concerns with what I have seen to be a public display of negativity towards the district," board member Sandra Peirce said during the body's Nov. 30 meeting. "In all the time I've lived here and all the school board elections I've seen or been a part of, I've never seen candidates be so negative about serving on this board … and be so negative about the school district in general."

Board member Sheila Wills said the slate of school board candidates was "not very strong," with most not having lived in the area for long. Wills also voiced concerns about appointing Margeaux Johansson, who came in third in the school board voting.

"That third-place candidate has never been to a full board meeting," Wills said in the Nov. 30 meeting. "As a board member, are we more responsible for upholding a flawed process or are we more responsible to try and appoint the best person that we can appoint?

"I'm not saying the third person would be a terrible board member. I like a lively debate. It got me into trouble recently. But … is there a better candidate out there, maybe someone who is a little more seasoned (and) has a little more time in the valley might be better?"

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The board finds itself in this position thanks to an administrative error prior to the election that classified all three open seats on the board as four-year term seats. The third seat actually carries a two-year term.

However, all five candidates who ran for the three positions said in their petitions they were seeking four-year terms. The Colorado Secretary of State's Office and the board's attorneys said it couldn't undo those four-year commitments, so voters were directed to choose just two of the candidates to fill two seats.

Once the two new members were seated and certified, the board was supposed to appoint the fifth member. Both Peirce and Wills — who were re-elected to the board — said during the campaign in September that the most equitable way to fill that fifth seat was to appoint the election's third-highest vote-getter.

Board member Susan Marolt, who was not up for re-election, also said at that time she supported appointing the third-place person to the board.

During the half-hour discussion of the appointment Nov. 30, Peirce said she made the statement supporting the appointment of the third-place person "before I lived through the campaign." In addition, she criticized Johansson for not filing campaign disclosure documents, not attending board meetings during the campaign and displaying a lack of interest in the school district.

"I have reservations about people that don't follow processes," Peirce said. "It's something we use to be transparent with people. It just makes me feel uncomfortable."

Board member Bob Glah, however, chided Peirce and Wills during the Nov. 30 meeting for backpedaling.

"If we're not going to (appoint the third top vote-getter), it's incumbent on those of you who said you were likely to do that to explain why, individually, we should do something different," Glah said. "I think we have a problem with transparency at this point we need to address."

Glah said he supports appointing Johansson because it is the "democratic solution."

"I think we run the risk in the community of not respecting the votes," he said. "I worry about that. It doesn't sit well with me, especially when it was our mistake and it was suggested that you guys wanted to resolve it that way."

Marolt, the board's president, agreed with Glah, saying that if they trust voters to elect Peirce and Wills, "then I would trust the voters with the third spot, as well."

"I just feel really strongly that's the right thing to do, and I'm probably not going to change my mind," Marolt said.

Wills summed up the options succinctly at the end of the Nov. 30 meeting.

"The decision is do you follow the will of the voters or do you think you know better?" she said. "And it doesn't smell good to say you think you know better."

Board members finally directed Marolt to meet with Johansson and determine if she was still interested.

The board also briefly discussed the appointment at its December meeting Monday.

At that time, Marolt was serving jury duty and didn't attend the meeting. However, Glah told board members he'd received an email from her saying she'd met with Johansson and believed "she'd make a fine board member."

Board members talked about holding a special meeting to appoint Johansson, with Glah pushing for that option so it doesn't look like "we're dragging our feet on this."

But Peirce said she'd rather tackle the subject at the board's regular meeting Jan. 11 in case anyone from the public wanted to comment. Wills said she'd do it either way.

Peirce, Wills and Glah also said they'd reach out to Johansson individually in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 11 meeting. At that meeting, board members will vote on the appointment.

Asked Thursday whether the board had definitely decided to appoint Johansson, Glah said, "No, technically we haven't."

"But a reasonable person would conclude from the Nov. 30 meeting that we're moving forward in that respect," he said. "I'm frustrated because we appeared to move forward (at that meeting) but we're no further along."

The board has until Jan. 30 to fill the vacancy.

Attempts to reach Peirce and Johansson on Thursday were unsuccessful. Wills declined to comment. Marolt was still serving jury duty.

jauslander@aspentimes.com