Ken Witt launches “political stunt” filing meaningless ethics complaint against himself and fellow JeffCo school board members

Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt Thursday said he would seek an advisory opinion with the Colorado Ethics Commission over possible violations by the board on the state’s open meetings law.

Problem is, the Ethics Commission will never act on his request.

Witt made his announcement Thursday morning before a room of reporters, stating he was “calling the bluff” of those who support the recall of himself, Julie Williams and John Newkirk, the three-member conservative board majority on the five-member Jefferson County School Board.

Witt said the ballot for the recall election, which will be held on November 3, will cost taxpayers $100,000 to $200,000. He claimed the ballot is full of lies, citing language that claims the board majority violated the open meetings law when it hired an attorney without public discussion, barely a month after the November 2013 election that swept them into office.

The ballot says the three board members have “repeatedly violated Colorado open meeting laws by secretly making major decisions behind closed doors.” Each board member was given an opportunity to provide a statement; none of the three refuted the open meetings violation claim in their statements.

Witt on Thursday asked that if the violation was so serious why the proponents of the recall never filed an official complaint.

Lynea Hansen, spokesperson for Jeffco United for Action, which sponsored the recall petitions and supports the recall, responded after the press conference that the group discussed filing a formal complaint but decided instead to pursue the recall.

Hansen called Witt’s news conference a “political stunt.”

His request for an advisory opinion will never be heard by the Ethics Commission. That’s because the commission ruled n 2009 that it has no jurisdiction over school boards, school board members, school district employees or those associated with special districts.

Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, told The Colorado Independent that the commission’s handbook, which is available to the public, states this on page six.

In addition, Toro pointed out that the commission’s job is to evaluate complaints and advisory opinions based on Amendment 41, which deals with violations of the public trust for personal gain.

It’s unlikely, he said, that the commission would take up the request under the open meetings law.

Violating the open meetings law, Toro said, is not an ethics violation because it isn’t a violation of the public trust for private gain.

Toro, who has monitored the Ethics Commission since its formation in 2006, said he is unaware of the commission taking up a complaint or advisory opinion related to the open meetings law.

The appropriate place for violations of the open meetings law is district court, he said.

Correction: This article initially stated that the commission’s job is to evaluate complaints and advisory opinions based on Amendment 64. The commission’s job is to evaluate complaints and advisory opinions based on Amendment 41. 

Photo: Marianne Goodland