Officials May Make Recall Petition Determination by the End of This Week
By Rick Langenberg
After several years of speculation, threats and heated meetings, the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District could finally face its first major board ouster election in recent years.
Last week, recall petitions were turned into the county clerk’s office, demanding the removal of several key veteran leaders, including Board President Tim Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin. They represent the majority of the current board, and have served for the longest combined period.
The petitions are part of a campaign, called “Erase the Board,” led by former district employee Patty Waddle and other community organizers in the district.
According to Teller County Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees, officials may know by the end of this week whether the group has obtained enough valid signatures from registered voters in the district. If they fall short, the group has 15 days to get more valid signatures
Also, the targeted board members have the option of filing a protest against the petition. Braun, in an interview last week, declined to comment on whether they would pursue this option, but hinted that the veteran board members have a variety of legal choices at their disposal.
“Everything they have said (in their recall petition) has proved to be false. They are scaring the reputations of good people,” said Braun, who has served on the board in his current stint for six years, mostly as president. He also served on the board for another three years, prior to leaving the area for a brief period. “We have done a lot of good things.”
Moreover, Braun believes the current recall effort is nothing more than an attempt by the petitioners to oust the majority board members so they can hire their friends and family members at the school district.
Not a new fight
However, the idea of a school board recall isn’t new, and has been on the radar since about 2016, or possibly earlier. But the current campaign started to really surface in Nov. 2017, when Waddle ran for a board seat and lost to Jones by 30 votes. Then, concerns mounted regarding Jones’ residency pertaining to board representation in that election.
The recall campaign organizers have accused the veteran board of violating state statues, school board polices, open meeting and open record rules and a variety of resolutions. Board meetings, according to many accounts, have often got quite heated.
“We had to focus on a grassroots effort,” said Waddle, according to an article in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. “It took a community working together for a common cause.”
Waddle is a former district employee, who ran the Head Start program. She and other critics have accused the current board of misappropriating funds and violating many rules.
Rumors of a board recall surfaced several years ago, and appeared to focus initially on the administration of then superintendent Les Lindauer, who was terminated in November 2018, after being placed on suspension for six months. Many of these same issues were raised during his administration, with some parents accusing the board and Lindauer of harassment and ignoring the concerns of district residents.
In January, volunteers for the Coalition of Better Schools started collecting recall signatures against the three incumbent members. In their petition drive, the group obtained 444 signatures on Braun’s recall petition; 435 on Jones’; and 423 on Martin’s petition.
According to Kees, the group needs to obtain 400 valid autographs from registered voters to force a special election. She said this is the first recall campaign in the RE-1 area in some time. Recalls have been attempted in the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor, but not at the RE-1 school district level.
The deputy clerk said the targeted members can protest the wording of the petition, which is limited to 200 words. But they can’t argue the reasons for the recall, according to legal experts.
If the group gets enough signatures and survives a possible protest, then a recall election will occur in June or July, according to Kees. She estimates the cost of the election at around $8,500.
Braun said if the campaign reaches the election stage, then “the gloves will come off.” Already, the targeted members compiled a 12-point “Stop the Lies” rebuttal, distributed throughout the district.
The board president accused of Waddle of being a disgruntled employee, who has sent more than 100 email requests for information and squandered considerable taxpayer money in the process. Waddle, though, says she has documentation to back up her claims, and that her requests for information were more than justified.
For several years, an ongoing battle has ensued between the current veteran board members and critics, with few signs of a truce. In fact, the controversy surrounding the school district was heavily mentioned in a recent “Best Of Cripple Creek” reader’s survey, sponsored by TMJ News.
The other members of the board include vice-president Don Daniel and Director Laura Smith. They aren’t being targeted in the recall campaign.