Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Thanks to Tay, DPS runs up its legal, PR tab

Written by on June 25, 2021

Why is the Denver Public Schools board outsourcing everything regarding board member Tay Anderson? And why are they being so opaque about it all?

Immersed in public relations disasters and serious legal conundrums, DPS seems unwilling to keep all kinds of jobs in-house. Plus, the district isn’t keeping the public apprised of what’s happening. Apparently, the only way to find out who they’re hiring and what they’re paying is through media digging or CORA requests.

Earlier this month, the website BoardHawk.org revealed the DPS board had already spent over $108,000 on outside PR firms to help handle communications. DPS hired PowerMap Ltd., Lisa Relou Consulting and Rockford Gray, LLC, with Rockford Gray focused on the Anderson investigation.

Don’t be fooled, though: The $108,000 spent on outsourcing PR support came on top of the $3.8 million allocated to the district’s 32-member communications department.

The district also contracted with an outside firm, Investigative Law Group, on April 5 to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by board member Tay Anderson –starting with accusations by six young women from the now-defunct gun control advocacy group, Never Again Colorado. They alleged inappropriate sexual behavior by Anderson when he was both president of the organization and a district employee.

After BLM activist and donor Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming, herself a mother of three DPS kids, testified on May 25 that a senior district official had sexually assaulted 62 current and former DPS students – and Anderson was subsequently named as the alleged predator — those allegations were added to the investigation.

By June 2, DPS had already racked up nearly $53,000 with ILG. It’s not hard to figure that a significantly greater balance has been accrued since then.

Communications and the investigation itself aren’t the only areas where DPS has outsourced its labor, however. The Board recently retained attorney Kristin C. Edgar and the prestigious law firm Caplan & Earnest to “advise the Board” in the Anderson investigation.

Asked to explain the purpose of hiring outside counsel, Chief Communications Officer Michael Vaughn answered, “As previously announced, the Board has engaged an outside investigator to investigate the allegations against Director Anderson. The DPS Office of General Counsel is the primary point of contact for the independent investigator. The Board hired outside legal counsel to advise the Board on matters related to the investigation, if necessary.”

“The Office of General Counsel will continue to be the primary contact for the independent investigator,” Vaughn added. These responses — and the absence of public information about the decision to hire outside counsel — leave many more questions than answers.

First, with 10 attorneys and three legal assistants already in the Office of General Counsel, why is an outside firm needed? Shouldn’t the GC’s office be able to anticipate and provide the legal services necessary for the district? Are their in-house attorneys incapable of handling this?

Second, the GC’s office is already costing the district more than $2 million this fiscal year, including over $1.2 million in salaries. How much is Caplan & Earnest being paid on top of that, and where are the funds coming from? Is the cost within DPS’s legal budget, or did they boost the budget?

Let’s be honest: DPS shouldn’t be in this mess in the first place, yet its most notorious board member (Tay Anderson) faces serious sexual assault allegations that we now know go back at least two years. He is arguably the most toxic person in Colorado politics, and it’s hard to call Anderson anything but a distraction since he joined the school board. Now Denver taxpayers are paying for communications and legal counsel twice when DPS shouldn’t even be in this position anyway.

Third, why hasn’t Denver Public Schools been transparent and open throughout this process? Why does it take records requests for the public to become aware of these things? While the board publicly stated ILG was hired to helm the Anderson investigation, I can find no evidence that the board proactively tried to inform the public about hiring external communications and law firms. Even more, Anderson’s lawyer knew about outside counsel well before any public acknowledgment thereof.

On June 3, General Counsel Michelle Berge emailed Anderson’s attorney, Christopher Decker. “With this email, introducing you to Kristin Edgar who will be advising the Board on the final stages of the investigation as I work on phasing out,” she wrote.

In his June 4 reply, Decker invited Edgar to “please contact me at your first opportunity and welcome.” Edgar noted that she would return his call that afternoon.

With this investigation, we are talking about grave allegations of sexual abuse by a school board member upon 62 students and other alleged victims. Given this fact, and the millions of dollars DPS already spends on communications and legal services, it is inexcusable and shocking that a school district would be so secretive and nontransparent.

No wonder Denver’s school board has lost the confidence of so many students and parents.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s June 25 column at The Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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