School board appointment causes flap

Norm Happel of Elizabeth urges the Elbert County Board of Commissioners to act quickly on resolving problems that continue to plague the county's Department of Motor Vehicles.
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The Elizabeth School District is defending against an allegation that a brief application period to fill a school board vacancy did not allow some to be considered.

The board of education says the vacancy was announced May 7, the day after school board member Cindy Miller submitted her resignation because of family health issues. But longtime Elbert County resident Norm Happel says the opening wasn't announced on the district's website until May 10, and the May 14 deadline to file letters of intent left only three business days for interested parties to put their name in for consideration.

Carol Hinds, who has two children in the district, was appointed to the position May 20. She was one of three applicants.

The Colorado Department of Education allows for up to 60 days to replace a board member, but the Elizabeth School District C-1 wanted to appoint a new director as soon as possible for collective decision-making on next year's budget, said Chuck Williams, who has served on the board for nearly four years.

Hinds was an ideal candidate because she served on the district accountability committee and has attended multiple school board meetings, Williams said.

While Happel does not discredit Hinds as an appropriate replacement for Miller, he questions the integrity of the process and says it appears the board already had its sights set on Hinds.

“The thing that's so disappointing is there were going to be other candidates, but they didn't get it in,” said Happel, who says he was not among the hopefuls for the position. “They must do their best to announce and advertise the vacancy. I can't say for sure (the appointment) was preconceived, but it didn't give others the opportunity.”

Williams said the board's actions were “well within the guidelines” set by the CDE and Colorado Association of School Boards. However, he acknowledged that the duration of the application period was shorter than most.

“Looking back on this, we could have maybe extended (the deadline) out,” Williams said.

Hinds will fill the position until November, when an election will take place to fill that seat and two others. Those who aren't appointed or elected to the school board have the opportunity to join committees that help fulfill the district's mission, Williams said.

Williams referred to Happel as a “watchdog of the community” and said his intentions are good, but denied any wrongdoing in the appointment of Hinds and said the district is “trying to be as transparent as we can be.”

The board is familiar with Hinds' background and Williams says she is there to serve students.

“I think we made the right decision,” he said.

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