Small Town Politics by Lucy Ahl

Ahh, the joys of living in a small, mountain town.  My husband and I moved to Bailey CO from California.  We had only been dating a short while when he retired from the Army (42 years total, 20 + active duty).  He had been living in Anaheim and I had been living in San Diego until my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer.  I then moved up to Murrieta to take care of her while she underwent surgery and treatment.  In fact, she is the one who introduced us.  His late wife had passed in February and we started dating in January of the following year.

He had told me he wanted to move back to Colorado, the state he grew up in, after his retirement.  I had to make a decision to either go with him or stay in California.  As we got to know each other, it became apparent that we were both falling in love.  So, we remodeled the home he had lived in for 26 years and put it on the market.  It took 8 hours to sell!

Meanwhile, we had been looking online at houses in Colorado, mostly the Denver area.  It was during one of these searches, while we looked at an aerial view of one of the neighborhoods that it occurred to both of us it looked a lot like Anaheim, where your neighbors could hear you fart.  Not exactly what we thought retirement would look like.  I posed the question,

“Where do you picture yourself living in retirement?”

He didn’t hesitate when he answered, “The Mountains.”

And I said, “Then why are we looking in the city?”

And so he expanded our search.  We targeted Idaho Springs, Blackhawk, Conifer, and Bailey.  He decided he didn’t want to live off the I-70 corridor due to all the traffic in the summer and in the winter.  So we concentrated on the 285 corridor.  We found about 10 houses we liked and while our remodel was taking place, we saw a few of our favorites fall off the market.  I was getting anxious and disappointed, but didn’t lose faith.

The church I was attending at the time, Center for Spiritual Living, taught us to manifest what it is we truly wanted in life.  Visualize whatever it is you want and see yourself already there.  So I memorized my favorite house address, I visualized us living there, sharing our life together, happy.   We looked at the pictures of this house daily, every morning before we got out of bed.  And then one morning, it was gone!  I panicked!!  I insisted he call a realtor right then and there to find out what happened to my house.  Did it sell? Did they take it off the market because they changed their minds?  My heart was racing as he dialed a Colorado realtor’s number.  He left a message and within 2 minutes, we got a call back.  Henning, the realtor out of Sedalia, told us he would look into it and call us back.  It didn’t take him long to find out that the house had been on the market for over a year “for sale by owner” and they decided to list it with a local realtor who was preparing new pictures to post on their website.

Imagine my relief!  It just so happened that my hubby’s house sold within hours of putting it on the market so we were prepared to drive out to Colorado the following week.  We hired Henning to set up 2 days to show us around the houses we had decided we liked.  However, my favorite house was still my favorite house and I definitely wanted to see it in person.

The following week we arrived in Colorado and stayed with my husband’s mom and sister.  I was a little nervous meeting them for the first time but we didn’t really spend much time with them during the day because we were busy looking for a place to live.

We met Henning at a gas station and he drove us up the mountain to the Conifer/Bailey area where he had mapped out our day of house hunting.  After looking at seven houses, cabins that were mostly weekender homes, some musty smelling homes, some people who refused to leave even though we had an appointment to view the house (one had all the bedroom doors closed and when I opened one, there was someone in bed!) and some who trusted us not to let their dogs out (we did a good job with that one!) I finally said to Henning, “Okay, I’m not impressed.  I need to see my favorite house so I can get the disappointment over with!”

As we drove out the 43, it seemed to take forever to get to the street I had memorized.  As we turned left onto it, my heart started beating faster.  As we approached the end of the road, the driveway loomed before us.  All I kept thinking was, wow!  I thought the driveway was longer.  The house came into site and it was enormous!  It sat at the top of the hill and it overlooked pine trees and aspens.  We got out and looked around the property and then headed inside.  As I walked into the kitchen, my mind started to race as to what I would change and how perfect it would be.  Same with the living room and as I walked upstairs and into the master bedroom, I started to cry.  I was so overwhelmed with emotion because this truly was our new home.  I had scoured the pictures for so long on line and now I was finally here, seeing it with my own eyes and it actually felt like home to me.

I didn’t want to leave!  The owner came back and we ended up talking with him for quite some time.  After a short discussion, we put a bid on the house that evening.  It had to have a contingency because his house in California had to close before we could purchase this one and they agreed.  Long story short, we moved to Colorado and lived in our new house without furniture for about three weeks until our furniture arrived.

My husband still had one of his five children living with him.  His son, who had been home schooled in California, was going to be enrolled into the public school system.  Fitzsimmons Middle School housed the 8th graders and he started late (school started in August and we moved here in September).  Now, his son is a little different and by different I mean (we didn’t know it at the time) he is high functioning autistic.  So it was hard to watch him adjust to being around kids his own age for probably the first time in his teen years.  He was bullied at first but he was also no angel.  He contributed to the kids bullying him.  He would sit in class and make noises to annoy the other kids, he would disobey his teachers, and he would do things he wasn’t supposed to be doing, ending up in the principal’s office almost daily.  He would lie to us about his homework and his grades were failing.  He wanted to be taken out of school because he hated it but I wasn’t going to homeschool him because I was still attending college myself and didn’t have the time.  Plus we wanted him to be socialized.

We ended up meeting the Principal, Mr. Watson, and if it wasn’t for him and his caring ways, we never would have had him tested for autism.  My husband thought he had ADHD but it went far beyond that.  Mr. Watson helped him out the rest of the year and they ended up becoming close.  He would go to Mr. Watson with any problem he was having and if he was also the cause of the problem, Mr. Watson would handle it.  He updated us on a regular basis and he always seemed to be at the school.  Early in the morning until late at night.  He was often seen in many classes because he made it a point to not only check up on the students but made sure the teachers were doing their jobs as well.

Mr. Watson changed my step son’s attitude towards school.  He began liking school, started making friends, his grades went up and he was much happier.  In fact, he looked forward to going to school.  When summer break came, he was so upset he wasn’t able to go to school.

Fast forward through his ninth grade where he is now in high school.  He had to adjust to a new principal but was still able to go and see Mr. Watson if he needed someone to talk to.  We put him in special education classes and things were going very well.  It was just before the end of school when we heard that Mr. Watson had been escorted by the local police out of the building in front of children and administrators.  Most were crying as they witnessed this horrible scene.  Here is where the politics gets really thick in a small town.

After some investigation, I found out that Mr. Watson had applied for the superintendent position that had become available.  The board of 5 members had decided to hire a woman from out of the district.  In fact, she had been the assistant superintendent in Pueblo, CO and when her boss decided to leave, the board at that district asked her NOT to apply for the position.  It seems they were cleaning house and wanted some fresh blood for their poorly rated school district.  It was during her first year reigning as superintendent in our district and yet not very many parents or community members knew who she was.  During that year, we never received one email from her detailing her responsibilities, what was going on with the school, anything!  So it came as a surprise to everyone in the community, with the exception of the board, when Mr. Watson was relieved of his duties, two weeks before the end of the school year.  To say the community was outraged wouldn’t do it justice.  Over 150 community members attended his hearing to which all of the board still voted him out.  People were given 3 minutes in the hot, stuffy room to voice their opinions but only to fall on deaf ears, and to be cut off when their 3 minutes were up.

You could see the boredom on every member of the board members faces including the superintendent.  It was clear they didn’t give a shit what we thought.  It was clear they didn’t care that since Mr. Watson had taken over as principal, the students grades had gone up significantly, their testing scores had improved and they were in the top 10 of school districts in Colorado.  You see, the board wasn’t used to people showing up to their meetings.  They were used to voting in a budget without the approval of the public.  They were used to not being challenged by the community.   If someone asked them a question, they weren’t allowed to speak with us directly, we would have to wait a month for an answer, if we even got an answer.  Their website wasn’t updated and hadn’t been for quite some time.

After digging around it was discovered that 11 years ago during a water test that lead had been discovered in the elementary school water.  One letter went out from the old superintendent (Walpole) to the parents 11 years ago and then nothing else happened.  No follow up, no corrections, nothing.  So it was this incident along with the firing of Watson that sparked a watch dog group called Parents and Citizens 4 Education (PACE) to form.  After organizing, it was voted on to recall the current Board members to get to the superintendent.  That was the ultimate goal, to get rid of the current superintendent and replace her with someone who knew what they were doing.  A person who cared about our community, who lived in our community, and would be more open and transparent than the current sneak of a superintendent.   She reminded me of Obama when he wanted to get a law passed, he would by pass Congress and set the law himself.

From the get go, the community was divided.  The ones who didn’t really care what the board did and wanted to just have peace, sided with the current board members.  They also didn’t have children in the school district.  Old schoolers who didn’t want to make waves

The teachers (most of them), younger parents who care about their children’s education and a few retired educators wanted the see the board recalled.  The teachers were running scared.  They didn’t know who would be fired next so they were unable to sign the petition for the recall.  They were in fear of losing their jobs.  They couldn’t say anything.  Some teachers quit and took jobs in other school districts for more money.  Good teachers.  But it was the lies and the deceit that came out of this recall process that disappointed me and allowed me to see just who we were dealing with.  Crooked politicians.

The board members in a fight for their volunteer positions put out a smear campaign against PACE.  They called one church where PACE was meeting and paying for a room, they would be contacting the IRS and telling them they were dealing with politics in their church which would cause them to lose their non-profit, tax exempt position.  PACE had to find a different location to meet.

The county clerk was friends with someone on the board and she made available to them all the signed petitions as soon as they were handed in (law states they have to wait at least 10 days until all the signatures are validated before giving them to the opponent).  They then started a campaign by calling everyone who signed the petition to change their minds, telling them that PACE lied to them to get them to sign the petition.  They then sent them a form letter to fill out and sign and hand into the county clerk to get their signatures removed.  They used their positions with their church to do this as well as called people.

PACE had gathered enough signatures to have all 5 board members recalled.  The county clerk falsified information to PACE members which almost disqualified the petitions because she gave out the wrong dates as to when they needed to be in.

In the end, 3 members had gotten enough people to take their names off the recall petitions to not be recalled.  Two members were on the recall ballot.  Which brings me to another crooked move.

On Election Day, the recall ballots were not available at the county clerk’s office.  They were mail in only.  Most people did not realize this and when they went to vote, they requested the recall ballot and they were told they would have to drive on hour and a half to get another one if they had misplaced the one mailed to them.  This was at the request of the county clerk.  She was given two locations and she choose to have them at the furthest one for people to drive knowing most people wouldn’t do it.

After all the ballots were counted, the recall did not go through and the 5 board members got to hold their positions until next year’s election.  However, if they thought PACE was going away, they were wrong.  We are a watch dog group.  We are watching them like a hawk.  When their audit budget came out, the numbers had been transposed and we brought it the superintendent’s attention.  Not one thank you.  The report was so unprofessionally put together, it was so obvious they really do not give a rat’s ass about our community.  The superintendents condescending attitude toward our community is shameful.

So there are two volunteer committee’s that are supposed to look after what the school district is doing.  The SAC and the DAC.  School Accountability Committee and the District Accountability Committee.  Each committee is supposed to have a number of volunteers from the business community, parents, teachers, and lay people.

For quite some time, I think since last August, there was a business position available on the DAC.  I applied for it because I run a home business, I am a community member, I have worked on many committees in the past, and I have experience in putting by-laws together.  My work experience is extensive, and I’m a straight A student in college, graduating with honors, and I’m a published author.  I have done public speaking, have been a professional organizer, and clawed my way to the top in a corporate environment.

I had to be interviewed by the board and they did so in November.  They all knew who I was as I was very vocal about defending against all the lies they had put out against PACE during the recall process.  Very vocal.  I would have been vocal about the conflict of interest as to why the board is interviewing a person for a District Accountability position.  Still doesn’t make much sense to me.  But the story gets better.  When they saw my email about my desire to apply for this position, they panicked!  One board member approached one of his friends who happened to be a realtor and begged her to apply for the position too because they didn’t want to hire me.  My interview was at 5:00, her’s at 5:30.  At 5:50 she was still a no show, so they called her.  Opps, she forgot.  So, they rescheduled her interview for the following month, December board meeting.  Again, no show.  So you would think since I was interviewed, I would get the position.  No one else came forward.  But nope, they went out again and recruited someone else.  And so they interviewed her at the February board meeting.  Now my interview had been 3 months prior.  Why did they wait so long?  Politics.  So the interviewee isn’t a business owner, her parents are business owners.  She is an employee and a graduate of the high school back in 2007.  After her interview, she was hired on immediately.  Ya think they didn’t want me for the position?  Obviously!

So, I am very involved now with the PACE organization because let’s face it, our children deserve to have the best education possible.  When you have a superintendent and a board that chooses to be secretive about their goings on, they do need to be accountable for their actions.  That is what PACE is doing.  Keeping them on their toes.  Putting a fire under their asses and keeping them in check.  This month we have put together a presentation for the community to let them know in laymen’s terms, exactly where the three schools in our district really stand.  It’s actually a very informative presentation.  It even offers up solutions to some of the budget problems the district continually says they have.  A solution on how to pay our teachers more.

Speaking of teachers, at the last board meeting, one of the high school counselors informed the superintendent and the board that they were organizing!!  Yes!!  Hopefully, to get a union in there for them so they have someone to stand up for them rather than them being bullied by a board that doesn’t care about their welfare.  Progress in numbers!!  Our teachers deserve to make a living salary, a decent salary.  Our children deserve for our teachers to make a living wage, a decent wage.  The turnover is horrendous and it is only hurting our students.  I can tell you what is getting in the way, three letters, EGO.  The board and the superintendent need to put away their EGO’s and allow others to help them out.

When I posted on our community page about our presentation, one of the local reporters told me I was not being transparent.  He said the school district wasn’t putting on the presentation but PACE was.  I told him he was correct and if he would just read my post it was in all capital letters who was putting on the presentation.  He continued to not only argue with me, but to insinuate that I had deleted his post!!  None of which was true.  Who, what, where and when was in my post, clear as day.  Transparent as plastic wrap.  But see, this is the opposition we are facing.  And as I told him, the more people know about our school district the better.  Knowledge is power.  If you have nothing to hide, than a second set of eyes should not be a problem.

Oh, and as far as the new middle school principal…well, for one, the job was never posted throughout Colorado like it should have been.  The superintendent hired an interim principal without going through the proper channels.  Her entire family moved here, her husband got a job with the high school, and her kids are attending the high school.  I thought this was a pretty ballsy move for an interim principal.  Uproot your entire family from Pueblo, CO to Bailey, CO?  She knew before the community did that she had the job.   No one else was interviewed because like someone who thinks they are above the law, rules don’t apply to them.  I can’t blame her.  I can blame the school board district and the superintendent.  Last I checked, they work for us.  We are their paycheck.  Our tax dollars is what goes to the largest budget in the community, last I heard, over a million dollars and counting.

Ahh, yes, the politics of a small town.

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