Every year come election time, Boulder Weekly editorial staffers get to spend about two months immersing ourselves in seemingly every spec of political minutia from every corner of Boulder County. You might think that we would find fact checking a mill levy or taking the time to have a beer with a really, really longshot of a council candidate would drive us crazy, but nothing could be further from the truth.
We won’t lie; this is about the most difficult issue we produce all year long. This year comes with wall-to-wall candidates vying for seats on four city councils and three school boards. There’s a judge retention question and enough ballot initiatives, questions and issues to choke a horse. In case you are keeping score, there are about 60 candidates running for something this election cycle. But the hardest part — after weeks of research and interviews — is that we then have to sit at the long table in our conference room and come to a consensus as to who and what issues we will be endorsing. But it’s all good.
You see, this time of year reminds us that what we do for a living is meaningful and just how privileged we are to work in an educated and politically active place like Boulder County. We understand that even the most avid politico won’t have the opportunity to spend the hundreds of hours that we spend talking to every candidate and researching every issue. We don’t mind working the evenings and weekends this time of year because we know that what we do makes a difference. We get to help the people of Boulder County be better informed than they would have been had we just taken the easy route and not endorsed. It’s a great feeling, and we are truly honored to serve our readers in this fashion.
The other great thing about spending a couple of months on the front lines of local electoral politics is we get to meet some truly great and inspiring people. We can’t endorse everyone, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t appreciate every candidate we met and learned something of value from each of them. We did.
The communities of Boulder County and our school districts are in a time of great flux. As a result they are in a time that demands great leadership. We hope you will consider voting for the candidates we have endorsed. After a great deal of time and effort, we believe that they are the right folks to lead us into the future. But as always, the most important thing is that all of us make our voice heard by voting.
CITY OF BOULDER
City of Boulder Council Candidates
Vote for no more than five (5)
Cha Cha Spinrad
Comrade Keith Percy
With five of nine Council seats up for election, the outcome of this year’s City Council race will have a significant impact on how, and if, Boulder grows. The current City Council is dealing with issues that are products of policies and choices made by Councils of the past. But this election, in particular, is poised to have unprecedented gravity and consequence for Boulder’s future.
With 17 candidates running, Boulder Weekly heard a lot of ideas that address the obvious issues facing our city: transportation, energy, affordability, growth and development. We also discussed with each candidate social and cultural issues like the treatment of our homeless population; fostering a racially, ideologically and economically diverse population; and supporting the arts community. Often, the answers to these questions intersected, and we gleaned key insights from each candidate about their vision of Boulder’s identity, the efficiency of how we govern and their motivations to run for City Council.
In choosing which candidates to endorse, we valued balance — in each individual candidate; the group of five candidates we selected; and how each might interact with the four sitting Council members. There are a number of candidates who were strong on one specific issue, such as municipalization or growth, but were either unwilling or unable to address a broader range of equally important topics when asked. In addition to balance, we also highly valued common sense over ideology and pragmatism over idealism.
Frustrated, like many of you, with certain Council actions and policies over the last several years, it was tempting to choose five fresh voices. However, if all the incumbents were voted out, there would only be one person with more than two years experience on City Council in the next term. Plus, Council members must have the capacity, skill and experience to operate the City’s $350 million budget. Thus, we chose certain candidates because of their experience in Boulder’s government and cultural workings, while choosing others with innovative ideas from other sectors that will likely translate to City Council.
There is no candidate with which we agree on every issue. But the following candidates would bring certain strengths and experience to the new Boulder City Council that reflect the values we outlined above.
Michael Kruteck is a prime example of someone from outside the city government system that has the capability to operate within it while providing fresh perspective. As the chief financial officer at Pharmaca, he brings unique financial and business knowledge that would serve the City well on issues of development.
Regarding growth, affordability and government efficiency he suggests taking a data-driven and goaloriented approach that better ensures the Council’s actions would be effective with proven success. He’s against the City’s camping ban that has targeted the homeless population, wants to spend more money on the arts and provide real solutions to support Boulder’s dwindling middle class. The clearheaded rationality he presents, while speaking to controversial issues, is refreshing.
At the other end of the spectrum is long-time City Council member Lisa Morzel. Simply put, she represents an integral and significant part of Boulder that other wise would not be represented without her presence. As part of Council, she often expresses different ideas and takes on projects that follow her own moral compass. For example, this year she fought to empower manufactured home owners as their buying and selling rights were contested by out-of-state park owners. She supports managed growth, but wants to focus more on the types of housing that are built. She’s in favor of the City purchasing trailer parks and opening a campground to better accommodate a diverse socioeconomic population. Although she may take the fall for right-sizing in public opinion, she agrees that it was executed poorly. With her long history, knowledge and experience with the City, Morzel has helped and will continue to help retain Boulder’s unique identity.
Cindy Carlisle represents the thousands of Boulderites who signed the two petitions to put growth-stopping charter amendments on the ballot. She was on the steering committee for Livable Boulder, and submitted the petition for one of the ballot initiatives. Although BW doesn’t fully agree with the amendments, we think this voice is legitimate in Boulder and needs a supporter on Council. Carlisle believes the City shouldn’t bring in jobs if housing and transportation can’t support them. Her cultural viewpoints are spot on, and she’s a champion for diversity; would focus on making Boulder affordable particularly for young people; and takes the pragmatic approach to the homeless population, insisting that they are part of the community, not outside of it. As a previous City Council member and University of Colorado Regent, she brings both knowledge and experience.
Incumbent Suzanne Jones has a track record of eco-consciousness that we value and figure to be important in the next several years. As the executive director of Eco-Cycle, she’s committed to the City’s Climate Action Plan goals and is willing to try different approaches and policies to achieve them. While she supports development, she is a proponent of slow and deliberate growth and gentle infill. She believes City Council should act as a representative democracy, and she is committed to working both with other City Council members and the community to develop a working dialogue on key issues.
Bob Yates has extensive experience in Boulder’s arts and cultural community. Yates retired at 50 from practicing law and serving as senior vice president at Level 3 Communications. He immediately jumped into community service throughout Boulder. He’s been the chairman of the Museum of Boulder, president of the Boulder History Museum, treasurer of the Colorado Chautauqua Organization, and has also served key posts with the Dairy Center for the Arts, the Conference on World Affairs and more. Yates supports a forward-thinking approach to transportation; believes Council needs to take on less and prioritize issues; and suggests municipalization be re-thought at this juncture. He supports growth, the extent to which we won’t know until he sits on Council. However, Yates takes a common sense and conservative approach to most issues, and we think he’ll make reasonable decisions on complicated topics.
In the end, this election can go a number of ways. If you are voting on growth, one way or the other, there are five candidates to support your viewpoint. The same applies to any of the several other issues facing our city, with the exception of transportation. In our estimation, no candidate presents the vision to address our critical transportation needs. With 60,000 in-commuters, the governments in East Boulder County need better working relationships with the City of Boulder and leaders who are willing to work outside the city’s borders to find adequate solutions. Regardless, Boulder Weekly values the balance, common sense and ability both in the individual candidates and the group of candidates that we are endorsing.
CITY OF LONGMONT
City of Longmont Mayor Candidates
City of Longmont At-Large
City of Longmont Ward 1
Brian Bagley (uncontested)
City of Longmont Ward 3
Longmont is on an amazing trajectory. It was recently voted the second best place to live in Colorado, well ahead of its Boulder County neighbors. And why not?
When you add dozens of new microbreweries, restaurants and glutenfree bakeries to the likes of Lucky’s, Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage and a brand new Whole Foods, along with housing prices that are still well below those of other surrounding communities, you get a quality of life that’s off the charts and still getting better by the day.
The new and improved pedestrian mall is about to open. The old turkey plant at the end of downtown is gone and in the process of being transformed into lofts, galleries and still more microbreweries. The arts scene is exploding. The arts district is now a reality and will be further transforming the City in years to come. It’s not unusual to have nearly 20,000 people turn out for a monthly art walk or downtown street fair. It is a community on the move to be sure.
Next up is the redevelopment of the River Walk, which will solidify Longmont’s standing as the region’s best place to live if you actually want to own a home.
The St. Vrain School District is held up as a model for other districts, including Boulder Valley. And as for politics, in recent years Longmont has voted to ban fracking, elect Barack Obama and legalize marijuana by a substantial majority. All this progress and change and the town has still managed to hang on to its economic and racial diversity.
There is a reason for pointing out all these positive attributes. Longmont is evolving and it’s well past the point of no return. This positive evolution is a credit to most of the current City Council members who have provided fine leadership as to the local economy and development issues. But that said, we believe it is now time for some new leadership if Longmont is to take the next step.
Because of the community’s quality of life and desirability, the future problems facing Longmont City Council will be far more complex (with the exception of oil and gas extraction) than in the past. Rapidly increasing real estate values are already becoming a threat to displace the City’s lower and fixed income residents, a disproportionate share of whom are Latinos. Poverty at the bottom is increasing along with the cost of housing, making child-feeding programs and other solutions to hunger a necessary area for City Council intervention.
Unlike in Boulder, creating affordable housing in Longmont is still a very real possibility, so long as the City begins to address such housing in earnest now while any future growth limits are still far over the horizon. Longmont has a long history of treating its homeless population with compassion through progressive programs, but the next Council will likely have to deal with an increasing homeless population as housing prices continue to rise, forcing more of those at the bottom to the streets and shelters.
If the state Supreme Court rejects Longmont’s fracking ban, as is likely to occur, the next City Council will need to find new and creative ways to protect the City from the hazards of drilling in and near neighborhoods, solutions far more substantial than the current City regulations — even though Longmont’s new regs are admittedly better than those in most of the state. But a little better isn’t good enough and there is no room on the next Council for those who simply claim that the City is helpless and that it’s the state’s job to regulate the industry. The fight for surface owner justice, the environment and public health must continue regardless of the ruling of a Hickenlooperappointed court.
It is looking to Longmont’s future that has led us to our endorsements. We believe that Dennis Coombs has done a good job as mayor and will always deserve a lot of credit for what the city has become. We like Ron Gallegos; we share his vision for the River Walk, his interest in the arts and his concern for the Latino community who make Longmont’s culture so rich. But we believe that Sarah Levison has the skill, dedication and foresight that make her best equipped to help lead Longmont through the many complex social challenges it now faces and will be facing in the years ahead. A focus on economic vitality and redevelopment, while still extremely important, is no longer enough on its own.
Levison’s leadership will be challenged. Frankly, there are still a few holdouts on Council who we believe put party affiliation and special interests above the interest of the community. It will be up to Levison to bring her fellow Council members to a place where there are enough votes to move forward. We believe she is up to the challenge and the best person for the job.
For the at-large seat, BW enthusiastically endorses Joan Peck because she cares deeply for the community, knows what needs to be done and has proven over and over again that she is willing to roll up her sleeves to lead Longmont into the future. She is working hard to find solutions to Longmont’s complicated mass transportation issues, including potential ways to still get that train RTD owes us. She also recognizes that mass transportation is an issue that will require partners throughout the county in order to create an effective system that people will choose to use over their cars. She thinks outside the box when it comes to fracking and her ideas may come in very handy in coming years. She understands budgets, and she has excellent skills for dealing with complex issues. She would be a great addition to the Council.
We can’t say much about her opponent Scott Dunn. He’s the only candidate in the entire County that turned down BW’s request for an interview for the purposes of our endorsement process. He works for a local Longmont law firm, and he is the current chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. On his campaign website, he lists multiple development projects he believes are critical to the City’s future. We offered him the chance to explain to our readers why he wouldn’t meet with us, and he didn’t bother to return that email. If you don’t have time to talk to the people you want to represent, you probably don’t have time to represent them. And as we said earlier, development is no longer a broad enough platform to be an effective Longmont City Council member. Times have changed, and we need to be looking forward, not to a past that so often served only the few and fortunate.
As for Ward 1, Brian Bagley is running uncontested. If he had an opponent, we would still endorse Bagley. He has exhibited that rarest of political qualities over the years: the willingness to listen and occasionally change his mind, even at the price of being publically blasted and threatened by his own party. We know Council is elected without party affiliation, but we also know the Republicans went crazy on Bagley because he was willing to admit that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) would never adequately protect Longmont from harmful oil and gas extraction processes and that the City would have to protect itself. He wasn’t for the fracking ban and we frequently disagree with him on other issues, but he is willing to listen, say what he thinks and find common ground with those who don’t agree with him, and that’s hard to find these days.
And finally, in Ward 3, we endorse Paul Rennix. He is a political newcomer who understands Longmont’s needs for affordable housing, protection from oil and gas extraction and improved mass transportation from RTD, including getting what we already paid for. He is also interested in growing Longmont’s art community and creating more opportunity for nightlife, including live music.
We appreciate his opponent Bonnie Finley taking the time to meet with us. We enjoyed our conversation. We are in no way questioning her character or honesty, but we continue to believe that her employment with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI) is a problem, if for no other reason than it can create the appearance of impropriety even if none exists on certain issues.
CACI has been very active in promoting the oil and gas industry and fracking in Colorado. Employees of CACI (not Finley) are current or former members of the board of oil and gas front groups such as Vital for Colorado and Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the latter working with the Koch brothers and also being involved in the controversial REMI program at CU’s Leeds School of Business which was recently reported by Boulder Weekly.
As reported previously by BW, these groups, along with Colorado Concern — an organization made up of the state’s wealthiest political donors — have set a specific political agenda to be pursued at all levels of government. This agenda includes promoting the oil and gas industry and fighting against all fracking bans and moratoriums. These groups that CACI supports are dedicated to creating laws that will make it difficult to impossible for citizens to put forward initiatives in the future that would change the state constitution, allowing communities to control oil and gas extraction or setbacks. Their agenda also includes trying to overturn Colorado’s construction defects law, which critics of the tactic claim is a ploy to increase profits for condominium developers at the expense of homeowners. Many such developers are members of the groups mentioned above.
We have witnessed Finley’s stance on oil and gas while on Council and the Times-Call recently reported that one of her issues in her next term, should she get one, will be “taking action at the municipal level on Colorado’s construction defects law.”
Finley insists that her day job at CACI has no bearing on her votes on Longmont City Council. But we believe that in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety — which is a necessary ingredient for the public to have confidence in its government — she should have previously (and in the future, should she win another term), at a minimum, recused herself from Council votes on issues such as oil and gas or construction defects laws wherein her employer is actively lobbying for specific outcomes.
And there you have it. These are some of the reasons we endorse Sarah Levison, Joan Peck, Brian Bagley and Paul Rennix. We believe they are the best choices to lead Longmont into its bright future by working collaboratively to solve myriad problems associated with being a highly desirable place to live with limited housing and other resources.
Shall Longmont Municipal Judge Diana VanDeHey be retained in office for two (2) years?
CITY OF LAFAYETTE
Lafayette City Council
Vote for no more than four (4)
Each of the seven candidates for Lafayette City Council took the time to speak with Boulder Weekly. Lafayette is a growing community, in both overall population and diversity, and as such, we believe there are a number of issues that are of utmost importance to the City, including creating affordable housing, developing more clean energy sources, supporting both of this year’s ballot measures for Lafayette, and continuing to fight against oil and gas development.
It should come as no surprise to our readers that first among our concerns is oil and gas development.
In 2013, the Lafayette community stepped forward and voted in favor of banning hydraulic fracturing within city limits. BW supported this measure (Question 300) for good reason: Lafayette is located on top of the Wattenberg field, the massive oil and gas play that covers most of Weld County and spills into Boulder and Larimer counties.
While Lafayette sits on the same oil play as Erie, Frederick and Greeley, it has not yet known the glut of oil and gas development those cities have experienced. Erie is home to more than 300 wells, and Frederick has hundreds more than that. In total, Weld County has more than 20,000 wells.
While Lafayette currently has a comparably miniscule number of wells — 24 altogether, with 14 producing and 10 abandoned — their location on the Wattenberg makes them a prime target, and it is “fantasy,” as candidate Cliff Smedley says, to believe that Lafayette will remain “an island that doesn’t get touched by fracking.”
We couldn’t agree more. As of September the state Supreme Court agreed to hear cases on fracking bans, a move that could determine whether local governments have any say in the matter of oil and gas development within their borders. Despite fears that the Court will favor industry over communities, as Colorado has done repeatedly, we still believe city governments have a battle to fight, provided their constituents have asked for protection against this industry. The people of Lafayette have spoken.
As such, we asked candidates about their views on fracking and local control, and what measures Lafayette can take in the event that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the oil and gas industry.
The candidates that we endorse each stated they wanted more local control over oil and gas development within municipalities (with current Council members Christine Berg and Alexandra Lynch supporting Question 300 in 2013). We are disappointed, however, that most candidates (including those we do not endorse) saw Lafayette’s Home Rule authority and strict zoning permit process as adequate to keep oil and gas development out of Lafayette. There are a number of wells located within Lafayette that require no permit for companies to come back and begin extraction again. Cliff Smedley, who was instrumental in bringing forward Question 300, addressed this fact directly.
We also support candidates who see affordable housing as a way to maintain economic and racial diversity in Lafayette, and indeed across the Front Range. Housing has gone up 65 percent in Lafayette since 2010 — the highest rate in Boulder County, and a growing issue not just for low-income families, but for the middle class as well. Current Council members Christine Berg and Alexandra Lynch have made affordable housing a priority in their time on Council, both stating that they would like to see multi-family housing projects dedicate 20 percent of their units to affordable housing. Cliff Smedley similarly suggests that the City be more stringent when issuing building permits, only awarding permits to developers that dedicate a “substantial amount” of affordable housing to future projects. While Stephanie Walton admits that she has “more questions than answers” when it comes to affordable housing, she says she’s seen the struggle of people trying to rebuild after the flood of 2013 as the executive director of the Long-Term Flood Recovery Group for Boulder County. Walton says she would like to explore how the City of Lafayette defines affordable and find better ways to utilize partnerships with entities like the Boulder County Housing Authority.
Each of the candidates we endorse fully supports both of Lafayette’s 2015 ballot measures, Questions 2J and 2K. Critical in our questioning of the candidates was their full support of Question 2J, which would, in part, allow legal residents who do not have the right to vote (i.e., have only their green cards but no U.S. citizenship, or those under 18) to serve on City boards and commissions (excluding the Planning Commission). We believe this is a straightforward approach to creating an inclusive government that focuses on fostering diversity. Question 2K asks voters if they support collective bargaining rights for city firefighters. We believe this measure is critical to creating fair working conditions for those who often sacrifice the most by simply doing their jobs.
While each of the candidates is qualified and each brings a unique perspective to city governance, we believe those we have endorsed will continue to push Lafayette in its efforts to create a livable city for those who call it home. We should point out that our failure to endorse candidate Cliff Willmeng was not based on his qualifications or policy positions, which are a fine fit for Lafayette City Council, but rather on BW’s long-held position that multiple members of the same family should not serve on local City Councils at the same time. It simply places too much control into the hands of one family. Current Lafayette Council member Merrily Mazza is Willmeng’s mother. If you don’t share our concern, then he would also make a fine Council member.
CITY OF LOUISVILLE
City of Louisville Mayor
Bob Muckle (uncontested)
City of Louisville Ward 1
Jay Keany (uncontested)
City of Louisville Ward 2
Susan Loo (uncontested)
City of Louisville Ward 3
Louisville may have 20,000 people living within its borders, but it acts more like a town of 1,000 — in all the good ways. The people in this Boulder County hamlet all seem to know one another. Downtown is a gathering place and point of pride. Big issues include making sure there are enough crosswalks for kids to get around safely. It’s a pretty extraordinary community that, frankly, lacks many of the controversial issues confronting its nearby neighbors.
The old Storage Tech complex now owned by Phillips 66 Co. is up for sale again. All of the Ward 3 candidates would like to see it sold in whole to a technology company that could take advantage of Louisville’s perfect location for such a venture. All the candidates in Ward 3 are aware that the McCaslin Blvd. commercial area is the Town’s top tax revenue producer and as a result, should be kept healthy and viable including the redevelopment of the Home Depot parcel.
All the Ward 3 candidates know the other Council members and get along with them well. And all the Ward 3 candidates are quite capable of doing a good job should they be elected. Layton is extremely active. She has served on a dozen boards and volunteered tirelessly in Louisville and the surrounding area. She knows the issues. Dennis Maloney is retired from CU. He has served on the Louisville’s Golf Course Advisory Board. He believes in property rights and data driven solutions and his friendly, analytical approach would be a value on any Council.
But BW is endorsing Todd Stevenson because we believe he embodies all the qualities that make Louisville what it is. As a downtown business owner he understands the importance of keeping downtown as the community hub. He has two school-age kids and sees his town through that young-family lens.
Stevenson understands that some growth is inevitable for Louisville, which has seen rapid development of late, but he believes the Council has a responsibility to insure that Louisville doesn’t lose its small town feel.
Stevenson has brought several events to Louisville, including the popular Louisville Turkey Trot 5K. He understands that an informed community makes for a great community and has been trying to come up with a way to use social media to keep residents informed through notifications of everything from road closures, to events, to City functions.
Stevenson is an enthusiastic ambassador for the Louisville community and his love of the community’s small-town feel is contagious. We believe that quality plus his business acumen make him the best choice to, as Stevenson likes to say, “Keep Louisville a cool town.”
St. Vrain Valley School District School Board
The St. Vrain Valley School District has been highly praised for closing the achievement gap, prioritizing early childhood development and increasing graduation rates. All four candidates for the St. Vrain Valley School District School Board ran uncontested and therefore were designated elected on Sept. 1, 2015 pursuant to the Colorado Revised Statues. We don’t think the lack of competition is apathy, rather it’s a reward for a job well done.
Incumbents Joie Siegrist (District A) and Bob Smith (District C) will continue serving on the Board of Education. Siegrist is the current vice president of the School Board. She was first appointed to the Board in Feb. 2012, then elected in 2013. Smith was first elected to the board in 2007. He’s the current president of the board and the associate director of the nonprofit Colorado Business Group on Health. Newcomers Amory Siscoe (District G) and Richard Martyr (District E) will replace term-limited members Mike Shier and John Creighton. With five children, three in St. Vrain schools, Siscoe volunteers and is involved with the PTO. Martyr is a retired science teacher from Longmont High School.
As a result of all candidates running uncontested, no names will appear on the 2015 ballot.
Boulder Valley School District RE-2 Director
Susan D. Femmer (withdrawn)
Sam Fuqua (uncontested)
Richard Garcia (uncontested)
The candidates running for Boulder Valley School District this time around are one of the strongest groups we’ve seen in years. Which is a good thing, considering BVSD is the second largest employer in the area and operates a budget larger than the City of Boulder. Without exception, all of the 2015 BVSD candidates are intelligent, engaged and passionate about education for the right reasons. They each present certain skills and experience that would be an asset to the BVSD board.
During our meetings with the candidates, three of them, Kathy Gebhardt, Susan Femmer and Shelly Benford, each expressed their concern that Chris Barge, Richard Garcia and Denny McCloskey were running as a block recruited, supported and funded by State Senator Rollie Heath and his wife Josie Heath, president of the Community Foundation. Barge is a current employee of the Community Foundation and Garcia formerly sat on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. As most folks know, the Heaths have long been important players in education both locally and statewide.
Both Rollie and Josie Heath were active supporters of Amendment 66, which failed to pass in 2013 and would have provided nearly a billion dollars of new education funding. Both are evangelists for early childhood development and both believe that BVSD must do more to close the achievement gap across the district.
Gebhardt and Benford opposed Amendment 66.
Because the accusation was made that the three candidates were running as a block that would answer to the Heaths, BW spoke with Josie Heath regarding the accusation.
Heath acknowledges that she supports Barge and Garcia because she knows them and believes that their passion, skills and experience make them the best candidates for the School Board. She says she didn’t orchestrate their decision to run and that the candidates will in no way be answering to anyone but themselves. She says she is not particularly familiar with Denny McCloskey.
That said, Boulder Weekly shares most of the values the Heaths have expressed regarding education over the years and we are very impressed with both Richard Garcia and Chris Barge as candidates. We believe that both would work independently as board members and they have stated their willingness to properly recuse themselves should a conflict of interest arise.
We understand the concerns of the other candidates and agree that such “blocks” could be problematic, but in this case, we believe that Boulder County voters should feel comfortable supporting Garcia, Barge or McCloskey should they decide to do so.
Speaking of support, here are our endorsements for the Board of the Boulder Valley School District.
For District A, Boulder Weekly endorses incumbent Shelly Benford. Throughout her time on the Board, she has been a skeptical voice who consistently asks the hard questions. She was one of two school board members who consistently expressed her concerns over BVSD’s handling of the air quality situation at Casey Middle School. She engaged with parents on the issue when communication from the district and superintendent’s office was lacking or simply confusing. As a board member she regularly visits schools — which, surprisingly, is a rarity for Board members — and she is a tireless advocate for smaller class sizes. Although we don’t agree with Benford on every issue, she represents what we believe is a necessary viewpoint for a board that has often been viewed as a rubberstamp for the current administration.
Benford’s opponent Denny McCloskey was a teacher in the BVSD school system for 12 years. He also has a long history of public service, serving for eight years on the Council for the City and County of Broomfield, where he also was an appointee to the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the National Association of Counties transportation board.
For the District C seat, we endorse Chris Barge. Barge, a former journalist, is currently the director of the Community Foundation’s School Readiness Initiative, which seeks to close the achievement gap through bilingual education, parent engagement and early childhood development. Barge has hands-on experience working with parents, nonprofits and educators, not just theoretical knowledge. Married to a BVSD schoolteacher and with two young children in the school system, Barge is an exceptionally bright and engaged candidate who would bring fresh ideas along with his boundless energy and passion to the BVSD School Board. Barge is exactly what BVSD needs at this point in time.
Kathy Gebhardt, also running for District C, has a long history in working on education policy at the state level. As a lawyer, she has brought litigation against the State of Colorado over funding issues surrounding education. Few would argue her commitment and pedigree when it comes to education. BW believes that she would be a fine addition to the BVSD Board but we also think that she may be even more important to Colorado’s children by continuing her current work at the state level.
Richard Garcia (District G) and incumbent Sam Fuqua (District D) are both running uncontested. Garcia founded the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition in 1980, is an advocate of both bilingual education and early childhood development and has a history of being a voice for the Latino population in education. If he were not running uncontested we would certainly be endorsing him. Fuqua, the former KGNU station manager, is executive director of the nonprofit Pop Culture Classroom. He has served on the School Board the last four years and is returning because he wants to help oversee the implementation of the last Board’s recently developed strategic plan in his next term. We’d endorse Fuqua as well.
Thompson School District R2-J Board of Education Director
In other parts of Colorado, and other parts of the country, outside interests have propped up candidates in School Board races to push a very specific conservative agenda. It happened in Douglas and Jefferson Counties, and the result of that ideological takeover resulted in policies that caused many students and teachers in JeffCo schools to walk out in protest last year.
That Douglas/JeffCo model was also taken to the Thompson School District in 2013, where three “reformers” — candidates who believe teachers’ unions should be broken, charter schools should be championed, pay-forperformance should be how teachers are compensated, and early childhood education should not be supported by the school district, among other beliefs — were elected to the School Board where they joined a “reformer” elected in 2011 and instantly became the majority.
Since this takeover of the Board, more than a third of teachers at Loveland High School have left the district. One of this year’s candidates, Jeff Swanty, says there are 1,000 students in the district’s zone that now opt to go to St. Vrain, Poudre Valley or other school districts.
Incumbents Pam Howard and Denise Montagu say the “reformer” majority on the board has rewritten policy to keep the minority board members, like themselves, from even expressing their views in public meetings. Board meetings have become chaotic. The conservative majority hired the same lawyer used by the Jefferson County School Board, and have used that position to fight the teachers’ union on contracts, among other things.
The takeover of the Thompson School Board and others like it is a far bigger story than the space here in our election guide can provide. But we feel the need to offer a cursory view into our ongoing investigation in order to elucidate why we so passionately endorse Jeff Swanty, Denise Montagu, Pam Howard and David Levy for the four open board positions.
Simply put, they’re not controlled and supported by the Koch Brothers, Americans For Prosperity or the Alliance for Choice in Education — the hyper-conservative groups reputed to have helped elect the current “reformer” majority and are currently helping some of, if not all of, the current batch of “reformer” candidates: Aimie Randall, Vance Hansen, Tomi Grundvig and Bruce Finger.
Consider first that LibertyWatch, a Tea Party organization, supports all four of this year’s “reformer” candidates. Three of those candidates, Randall, Finger and Grundvig attended a “debate” held by Loveland 912, another extreme-right Tea Party organization. Swanty and others claim they weren’t even invited to that debate.
Add to this that “reformer” candidate Randall wrote these two sentences on Watchdog Wire, a sounding board for the conservative Franklin Center: “Americans for Prosperity managed, in a two-day summit, to give me an identity, a purpose, and a method. There were over 3,000 activists in attendance and, as Ted Cruz said, we are all sparks in the grassroots movement.” Or consider that Randall’s filing agent with the state was hyper-conservative former CU Regent Tom Lucero.
Consider that Grundvig’s daughter worked extensively with Americans For Prosperity. Or that she sent a letter to the Loveland Reporter-Herald in 2013 supporting the “reform” candidates. Or that the controversial former Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bob Schaffer, an incendiary figure in education circles with ties to Alex Cranberg and his Alliance for Choice in Education and who currently heads the Koch-connected Leadership Program of the Rockies, posted a supportive message on the school’s website for Grundvig — an inappropriate act, which has caused Pam Howard to take Schaffer to court just recently.
It’s surely more than a coincidence that Grundvig and Finger share Carol Terrell as a filing agent. Terrell was also conservative Kevin Lundberg’s filing agent.
Add to that the fact Randall, Grundvig, Finger and Hansen have the exact same template for each of their campaign websites — and that on those websites, they all support the key tenets of the “reform” movement.
This year’s Thompson School District Board election is truly a last ditch effort to save an important part of our public school system from outside radical forces that would destroy it to fulfill their conservative Koch brothers’ agenda.
Our children deserve education, not indoctrination.
There is a choice. Pam Howard and Denise Montagu are solid candidates, who have been unable to effect positive change while in the minority role on this past Thompson School Board. Jeff Swanty was a Board member several years ago, and is now running again after seeing the disarray the Board has been thrown into. David Levy, a retired civil engineer whose kids went through Thompson schools, is running to restore order to the School Board, in his words.
In short, the four people we are endorsing are good candidates with varying ideas, but who more importantly have no agenda besides the welfare of students and teachers. You can’t say that about their opponents.
We will be continuing our investigation into this important race in the coming weeks.
In 2013, Colorado voters passed proposition AA, permitting the state to charge a retail marijuana tax as a follow up to Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado. The passing of Amendment 64 and the subsequent proposition AA was particularly enticing to voters because the additional state revenue would fund public school construction across the state. As part of proposition AA, the state provided estimates of tax revenue for the first full year the new taxes were to apply (FY 2014-15.) However, the revenues from these voter-approved taxes exceed the estimates by $66.1 million. Due to the state’s constitutional spending limits (TABOR), the state must refund the excess revenues unless granted permis sion by the voters to keep and spend the refund amount only in the first state budget year. Hence Proposition BB.
If passed, Proposition BB would allow the state to retain the excess tax revenue and spend $40 million on school construction and $12 million on state programs including marijuana education, anti-bullying campaigns, substance abuse and enforcement. The remaining $14.1 million has not yet been allocated in the state’s budget, but would be available for future use.
If BB fails to pass, an average of $8 per taxpayer would be refunded (a total of $25 million) and $24 million would be refunded to retail marijuana cultivators. The retail marijuana sales tax would also be cut from 10 percent to .1 percent until taxes are reduced to match the original estimates. Additionally local governments would receive less from the state to address the effects of marijuana legalization on the community due to a decrease in tax rate from 15 percent to 7.5 percent until the 2014-15 benchmarks are reached.
Proponents argue these tax revenues express the intention of voters when Amendment 64 and Proposition AA passed. By refunding the excess taxes, valuable projects and programs would remain unfunded and a year of marijuana taxation would be wasted.
Critics argue that Proposition BB is a temporary tax increase by disregarding the tax refund provision in the state constitution. They argue the state should have prioritized these program expenditures when estimating the potential revenue of Proposition AA. We think the critics are wrong.
Boulder Weekly supports the onetime tax refund exemption that Proposition BB proposes, as the refund to tax payers is minimal but the benefits to the education system is exponential.