Guest Columns

WEBB: LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE…

Voters, not Denver School Board, should decide on vacancy replacement

GUEST COLUMNIST

Next month, the Denver Public School Board will decide on a replacement for Nate Easley Jr., a former board president who has served the Montbello, Green Valley Ranch and Stapleton neighborhoods since 2009.

Easley will step down from his seat in March to become the executive director of the Denver Scholarship Fund.

All Denver residents should be asking: What criteria will be used to pick his replacement? How transparent will the process be?

This school board has a recent history of being divided into two factions. Will those factions come together to find a compromise candidate — who will listen to both sides with an open mind? Or will one fraction only look to get a like-minded candidate?

Are there a few people going behind closed doors to lobby the board and the superintendent? Shouldn’t the residents of these affected neighborhoods have more influence on the replacement than outside influences?

One benefit of age is that I have a long memory and have seen similar things happen. In the mid-1970s, our northeast neighborhood was ripe with rumors that Denver City Councilman Elvin Caldwell was going to resign to take a city department head job and then Mayor Bill McNichols would pick Caldwell’s replacement. Some young Turks — me included — derailed the plan by pushing for a charter change to require special elections when a council member resigned during a term.

When this issue was placed on the ballot, residents overwhelmingly agreed and King Trimble was elected by the people of the district. It was the right thing to do at the time and I believe the same process of a special election should be done for DPS board members who leave before their terms expire.

That way the above questions and the rumors surrounding the current situation would be put to rest. No school board or school superintendent should hold the power that should rest with the electorate.

There are outstanding individuals on the school board who can and should insist the process of naming Easley’s replacement is open and fair. These board members also can help change the rules and can put forward this idea of a special election.

It may be too late to have a special election for Easley’s replacement but now is the time to move in that direction.

There will be debate on whether the cost of a special election is warranted. But there is no price tag on true democracy where the individuals — who pay the property taxes that support our public schools — choose their representatives.

True democracy is always the best decision. Let the people decide.

Wellington E. Webb served as Denver’s mayor from 1991-2003.