Perceived legal threat causes tension
Jefferson County Board of Education member seeks outside legal counsel
Jeffco Board of Education Treasurer, Jill Fellman, announced she will be seeking outside legal counsel from David Foster, of the Foster and Graham law firm, after receiving what she believes is a legally threatening email.
The email was sent by the board's attorney Brad A. Miller to Fellman, the other board members, the district's Chief Operating Officer, Steve Bell, Chief Financial Officer, Lorie Gillis, and a representative from Caplan and Earnest, at noon on April 24. According to Fellman, it stated that if she did not listen to Miller's advice regarding executive sessions, she would be personally liable.
”His basic message was, if you don't listen to me and take my advice you could be individually liable,” Fellman said.
The email came after a 2-3 vote not go into an executive session in regards to an update about the impending mediation with the Jefferson County Educators Association (JCEA) following the declaration of the impasse.
To move into an executive session, the board must have four out of the five members voting in favor of the motion.
”We have counsel so we can get good advice,” Board President, Ken Witt said. ”It's critical that all board members share their responsibility to the district so we can properly direct the district in regards to negotiations with associations.”
According to Miller, the email was informative, reminding the board of its responsibilities to the community.
”It's incumbent on me to make sure the board is aware of its legal obligations and that the board is aware of its fiduciary duties,” Miller said.
In the past two board meetings where an executive session about JCEA mediation was on the agenda, Fellman and Second Vice President Lesley Dahlkemper voted against it, stating an update of information where no direction is given should be open to the public.
”I share Ms. Fellman's concerns,” Dahlkemper said. ” We have to be judicious about when we go into executive session and have a strong rationale to go into executive session. We have covered the bases we need to cover without going into executive session. An update on the next steps, a timeline — that can be open for the public to hear.”
According to the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, a public entity holds a sovereign immunity from personable liability in matters associated with their position, unless there is a willful and wanton disregard of duties or criminal activity executed by the entity.
The email sparked a concern among the board's minority in regards to Miller's privileges, responsibilities while detracting from the district's most important matter, students.
”The privilege is ours, not the attorney's, but he makes decisions on what's privileged and confidential,” Dahlkemper said. ”I think it's unfortunate as it takes us away from our No. 1 issue, which is kids and making sure they have the teachers and the best possible situation moving forward.”
Fellman is currently discussing her legal options with Foster, and will move forward by doing what is appropriate, best for the district and herself.
”For me, I would not do anything that would block negotiations," she said. ”My intent is to help and move the process forward, but at the same time, I need to take care of myself. To me, it's two streets.”