Colorado Mountain College trustee faces censure over letters to editor
Colorado Mountain College trustees last month considered censuring a colleague over letters the board member wrote to western Colorado newspapers about college spending.
The censure motion was tabled — but could be brought back — only after Trustee Mary Ellen Denomy of Battlement Mesa agreed to not write any more letters to the editor before a board retreat at the end of August.
Trustee Patricia Theobald of Breckenridge moved to censure Denomy “for repeated, serious violations of the responsibilities of [a] trustee of Colorado Mountain College, for engaging in a public campaign through newspapers across the district to mislead the readers by publishing the minority opinion [and] for expressing condemnation of the board and disapproval of properly approved actions by the board.”
“This conduct can only be intended to cause overwhelming damage to the college,” Theobald’s motion said.
Censure is a formal expression of disapproval that carries no further penalty. CMC trustees represent each of the six Western Slope counties served by the college — Garfield, with two representatives; Summit, Lake, Routt, Eagle and Pitkin.
The CMC board, an elected, unpaid body, adopted a policy in February 2014 — Denomy cast the sole dissenting vote — under which “each board member supports the final determination of the board concerning any particular matter, regardless of the member’s personal position concerning such matter.”
Further, the policy says, “The board president is the only spokesperson for the Board of Trustees.”
Board President Glenn Davis of Avon said the policy is not meant to stifle anyone, but to improve the effectiveness of the board and its support for the college.
He said he was inclined to vote for censure and pressed Denomy for the pledge not to write more letters because he believes “Mary Ellen is doing damage to this governing body’s ability to honor its responsibilities and fiduciary obligations to the institution by not choosing our meeting sessions to deliberate, argue, debate and instead … choosing to use letters to the editor to represent her position.”
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the policy and move to censure Denomy sounded like a muzzling of her First Amendment rights.
“I don’t know how they can legally keep that trustee from speaking out,” he said, expressing doubt that the policy would withstand a legal challenge.
Denomy, an accountant and self-described fiscal conservative whose second term on the board ends in November 2017, wrote a letter in May opposing a transfer of tax money to the nonprofit CMC Foundation, whose board Theobald formerly led; and a second letter in June saying she would vote against a raise, bonus and contract extension for college President and CEO Carrie Hauser.
Denomy also said in her second letter she would vote against the overall budget for 2016-17 because she was opposed to “raising tuition on some of our most-deserving students and increasing spending for projects that do not directly enhance the education of our students.”
“They’re mad at me because they don’t like differing opinions,” she said of trustees supporting her censure.
Theobald, in an email, said Denomy “was given ample time to express her opinions regarding tuition increases at the preliminary budget hearing in May.”
Theobald said the first letter gave a false impression of college finances and could have harmed the foundation’s ability to raise private donations.
The college trustees meet Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 for a retreat in Steamboat Springs. At the June meeting when the censure motion was tabled, trustees agreed to discuss the issues at the retreat.
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