Jeffco schools

Jeffco school board legal costs may rise

Board hires attorney for representation, has open position to consider

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Jeffco Schools Board of Education's recent hiring of a Colorado Springs attorney Brad A. Miller, could cost the district an additional $90,000 this year.

Hired by a 3-2 vote (Ken Witt, Julie Williams, John Newkirk in favor; Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman opposed), Miller will represent the board, and be paid a monthly retainer of $7,500, which includes legal fees and cannot exceed 30 hours per month. As per Miller's contract, he will also receive payment for any associated costs incurred by the employment, including mileage, parking, secretarial services, administrative expense, copying, facsimiles, and travel expenses, paid at cost or at his $225 hourly rate.

The swift hiring came after the board heard about the resignation of Allen Taggart, the executive director of employee relations for the Jefferson County School District.

“The district's attorney resigned, and we weren't told until a week after his resignation,” said Jeffco Board President Ken Witt in a phone interview. “This created and urgency for us to hire someone. It's not an unusual event for a board to hire representation.”

An email statement sent by Board Secretary John Newkirk link Taggart's position, which involved some different tasks but included representation of the board, to the role of Miller who will represent the board solely. Taggart was employed through the end of 2013 and his resignation went into effect Jan. 1.

The district office says a transition plan to seek a replacement for Taggart has been in place.

According to Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, the position provides in-house legal advice to the district and the board, among other legal, administrative, employment management duties.

“This (Miller's position) is a completely different position,” Stevenson said. “The executive director of employee relations has been a position with the district for a long time, and we had internal legal counsel the last four years, we never had the board hire a new attorney, it was a shared responsibility.”

Taggart's position, which cost the district $122,000 to $150,000 annually, is currently vacant, and a new candidate will be recommended to the board Jan. 16.

According to Jefferson County School District policy for School Board Governance and Operations, the board can hire separate legal counsel should an occasion — such as an expulsion or teacher dismissal — arise, but generally does not have their own representation.

“It's very important we do the right things. We had to make sure we have good representation when we make those decisions, and we did what any board would do in making sure we have good representation in the district," Witt responded after the Jan. 9 board meeting when asked about the $90,000 expense, assuming a new director of employee relations is hired at the current level.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions to discuss,” Boardmember Dahlkemper said. “As a board, we have not had a discussion about (Miller's) responsibilities on the board or the rationale behind this decision.”

“I want to propose we reopen the process and handle it the right way,” she said in an interview before the Jan. 9 board meeting.

At that meeting, Dahlkemper asked the board to consider having a public discussion surrounding Miller's employment and contract with the board at a later meeting. Fellman supported this request, but Witt disapproved of her request, ending the conversation by saying, “Let's end the distraction; it's a decision that has been made.”

Dahlkemper and Fellman — both in support of further discussion of Miller's appointment — said one of them would make a motion at the Jan. 16 meeting to discuss Miller's hiring.

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