HomeNews RE1J school board members continue slinging accusations
RE1J school board members continue slinging accusations
Written by Seth Mensing
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
“You are calling me a liar”
Accusations that Gunnison RE1J school board member Don Hagar used the words “stupid students” during a panel discussion at a Philanthropic Education Organization (PEO) meeting last month made their way into a second round Monday, July 8. The back and forth between Hagar and several of his fellow school board members continued, but a conclusion to the disagreement over what was said at that meeting seemed no closer in coming.
Hagar had been accused at a June 4 school board meeting of making the comments, which he denied. Members of the school board admonished Hagar’s alleged comment and related the concerns of several members of the public who attended the PEO meeting. But no actual evidence could be produced about what was, or wasn’t said, so the discussion was shelved. The latest round of remarks started during a time when members of the school board or administrative council can commend people around the district for good deeds or anything that seems worthy of praise, which usually doesn’t attract much controversy. But Monday night’s exchange between members of the board proved to be different on many fronts. “I commend the RE1J school board members and employees of the school district who separated gossip from fact in the recent slander of a board member,” Hagar started, when all the other commendations had been given. “They were joined by a large number of citizens who expressed displeasure at the behavior of a few.” Board member Bill Powell countered, “The board members ought to determine more if they would accept that commendation. As one board member I don’t accept that commendation and I don’t respect people who lie in public. “I don’t want people lying to the public in public. I don’t accept your commendation for me. I accept your condemnation, but not your commendation,” he continued. Hagar said, “I’ll get to that.” As the board members were given an opportunity to introduce topics to the meeting, Hagar referenced the section of the school board policy that says “Board members should cautiously separate gossip and innuendo from fact.” Hagar said, “It surely prohibits surprising another board member during a meeting. When board members use public meetings to criticize other board members without checking the basis of their information they damage the public perception of the integrity of the board … They owe a serious apology to the public.” Powell objected and repeated his statement that school board members should not lie. “You’re calling me a liar?” Hagar asked, to which Powell repeated, “Board members should not lie in public.” “You are calling me a liar,” Hagar said. “Take it for what you want, Don. I’m saying board members should not lie in public and that would be the statement I would make.” School board member Lee Olesen spoke up to support Powell, telling Hagar when several board members are repeatedly told a similar story about what was said at the meeting by members of the public, it gets hard to deny. “Well it didn’t happen and an awful lot of people from the meeting say it didn’t happen,” Hagar started, but Olesen stopped him. “I haven’t heard anyone from the public saying those comments were not made,” he said Hagar pointed to the letter to the editor sent by PEO president Nell Whiting to newspapers in the valley corroborating Hagar’s claims of innocence. “I’m talking about the meeting where we sat here and had people stand up and say exactly what happened at that meeting,” Olesen said. Again Hagar insisted that the information had all come to the board secondhand, “but no one checked the source.” Powell spoke up, saying, “That’s not accurate,” and board president Jim Perkins added, “The source for me was someone who was at that meeting.” Powell said he’d heard it from two people who were at the meeting and repeated, “It should be put in the minutes that a member of the board should not lie in public.” “You declared war. You called me a liar,” Hagar said, still without raising his voice. “I have to call you someone who violates the rules of the board.” “And how would you characterize your presentation to the board tonight?” Powell asked. “I don’t think I surprised anyone,” Hagar said. “I’m talking about something you were present for.” Powell protested, “I think the same could be applied to you in the last meeting. You were present.” After a brief pause, Hagar said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “I don’t understand what you say either, Don,” Powell said. Perkins stepped in and said, “Okay, gentleman. I think we’ll move on.” “I have the floor,” Hagar objected. Quietly, Perkins began to say, “But I think we’ll complete this discussion …” But Hagar stopped him. “A member is calling me a liar. He has no facts other than secondhand testimony to back his position …” “Secondhand testimony?” Powell interrupted. “They were people who were at that meeting.” “But if I had had a warning of the ambush, I would have had people here who would have rebutted it,” Hagar said. “But you did not follow the rules of the board meetings, therefore I can say no more. You have taken your position …” “And I’ll repeat my position,” Powell said before Hagar could continue. “Board members should not lie.” “I didn’t,” Hagar said. “Okay. I understand that. I understand what you’re saying,” Powell responded. “Board members should not violate meeting rules … but you did,” Hagar said. Olesen countered, “I don’t remember that. I remember people standing up at the meeting and voicing what they heard. Anybody can stand up and voice what they heard. It’s a public meeting.” Hagar said Rita Merrigan and Candi Borah, who both spoke out against Hagar’s alleged comments at a school board meeting in June “were misinformed.” “How could they be misinformed when they were at that meeting?” Olesen asked. “One of them was at that meeting and she was taking notes the entire time,” Hagar said. “Evidently she got her notes wrong.” With a slam of the gavel, Perkins said, “We’re going to move on.” After the meeting, Perkins said, “According to these accounts it was said. It’s not okay for somebody to say anything about ‘stupid kids.’ At the same time we’ve got the president of that group who wrote a letter. So we’ve got the he said, she said thing going. We’re trying to move past it. We’re not going to do a huge investigation. I don’t think that is where we want to invest our energy when we have other things we need to be doing.” But the board has scheduled a retreat for August 27 with a facilitator from the Colorado Association of School Boards, who will try to iron out the wrinkles running across the school board. “We’re at sort of a stalemate and I’m not sure we’re getting anywhere with the board. I’d like to spend our energy talking about what we’re supposed to talk about,” Perkins said.