Disgraced Jeffco School Board member facing recall

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A Jefferson County School Board member who is also a candidate for Colorado’s House of Representatives is facing a formal recall effort. The push for recall comes almost a month after Vince Chowdhury pleaded guilty to a third-degree assault charge for slapping his 16-year-old daughter.

Chowdhury, a Republican-turned-Democrat who says he has suspended his legislative campaign, has resisted calls for his resignation from the Jeffco School Board, including a formal vote by the board last month and an informal deadline of July 25. The July deadline passed without comment by Chowdhury.

Chowdhury’s inaction prodded a loosely knit but determined trio of Jeffco women to take matters into their own hands. Two of the women are mothers of children educated in the Jeffco school system. The three women have begun drafting a recall petition and have put up a Web site, www.recallvince.com, that sports Chowdhury’s mug shot with “Convicted” emblazoned across his chest.

“This is not the kind of board member that we need,” said business owner Lois Florkey, one of the three founding members of the movement. The other two are local mothers and activists Deb Dempsey and Denise Mund. Florkey’s niece graduated from Jeffco public schools in 1998.

“The fact that he didn’t show up at that July 8 meeting, that was really telling. Then, the fact that he let this deadline pass without any response tells me that we had to do this,” Florkey said. It was on July 8 that the Jeffco School Board voted to request Chowdhury’s resignation. Chowdhury was the only member of the five-member board not to attend the meeting.

Chowdhury, however, called the recall effort a “personal vendetta,” and pointed out that all three of the women have pre-existing reasons to dislike him. He said Florkey ran against him in 1999 and 2001, that he voted against Dempsey’s husband, Stan, who aspired to fill an empty slot on the school board a few years ago, and that Mund had proposed starting a charter school, which Chowdhury also opposed.

“Anybody can draw a conclusion that is more of a personal vendetta than anything else,” Chowdhury said Wednesday.

Florkey denied she was acting because of a grudge, and argued that it’s in the best interest of the district for Chowdhury to step down.

“He’s so far off the mark I can’t believe it,” Florkey said. “He has really broken so many rules that it’s time (for him to resign). He needs to drop out of public life and work on himself and his family.”

Jeffco School Board president Scott Benefield said he hopes Chowdhury will heed the wishes of the board and resign before the board’s next meeting, which is slated for Aug. 21. If not, Benefield hinted there could be a disruption.

“What I want to do is lay out to him what this is going to look like when we have our meeting on Aug. 21. My worry is to keep it under control,” Benefield said. “It kind of ticks me off that I have to spend this kind of time on this. If I was in his shoes, I would have resigned in the first few days after it happened.”

Benefield added that his main worry is that the media spotlight on Chowdhury will distract from the dual ballot measures the school district is trying to get voters to approve this fall. One measure would allow the district to unload a number of bonds and would result in a one-time revenue boost of $350 million. The other would increase the district mill levy, resulting in an annual revenue increase of $36 million.

Both, said Benefield, are sorely needed.

The school board president further noted, “We expel kids for what (Chowdhury) did. It’s such a poor example.”

Benefield said he also hopes the situation can be resolved without a full-on recall election, which he said would cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jeffco clerk and recorder Pam Anderson said she wasn’t sure how much a recall election would cost, and refused to speculate.

Anderson said once the petition form is approved by her office, the recall supporters will have 60 days to gather just under 43,000 signatures. A five-day waiting period would follow, during which Chowdhury might be expected to resign. If he doesn’t, a recall election would be set no earlier than 45 days and no later than 75 days from when the petitions are certified.

If the recall election takes place, lists of potential replacements would also be on the ballot, and any “yes” vote for a recall would include a vote for a candidate to succeed Chowdhury. To get onto the ballot, would-be successors would have to petition the clerk and recorder’s office. Anderson did not readily have further details Wednesday afternoon.

Chowdhury said Wednesday he hasn’t decided whether to step down from the school board or to withdraw from the primary race for the Democratic nomination for House District 22, and that he’s concentrating on his family.

“Anything having to do with elected office is not my priority at this time,” he said.

He also said he expects there’s more support for him in the district than has been reported.

“There’s a solid majority who hasn’t said anything that feels ... I’ve been in a very unfortunate situation. I think people know that I have served Jefferson County honorably for 15 years. I didn’t even have a traffic ticket in 11 years and then I had this tragic situation happen to me,” Chowdhury said. “People need to move on with their lives, and I think that’s what everybody would expect.”