District withheld error for days

Official suggested trying to keep Pitton in race

Paul Pitton

Dan Dougherty


District 51

Paul Pitton timeline

■ Oct. 13 — Ballots mailed to voters, with Pitton as a candidate to represent District B.

■ Oct. 15 — District is told, and confirms, Pitton does not live in District B.

■ Oct. 17 — Board member Ann Tisue calls press conference announcing Pitton is ineligible. Pitton announces he will stay in race. District decides not to notify public about Pitton’s ineligibility.

■ Oct. 19 — After questioning by The Sentinel, district issues first statement late in the evening explaining how the error occurred.

■ Oct. 23 — District updates its website with a dedicated update feed, and sends a letter to parents and staff explaining the error.

■ Oct. 27 — Three residents file a petition asking a judge to hold a hearing to determine whether Pitton is a viable candidate.

■ Friday — District Judge David Bottger schedules a hearing for Monday.


Read School District 51’s emails online at GJSentinel.com.

District 51 knew it had mistakenly certified Paul Pitton as a District B candidate for school board but chose to keep that information under wraps for several days, apparently at the recommendation of its attorney and director of communications, according to emails obtained by The Daily Sentinel.
Before the district informed the public of its mistake, its director of communications, Dan Dougherty, suggested the district reach out to Pitton to encourage him to stay in the election, a recommendation that had potential to influence the election’s outcome.
The emails also reveal how district administrators, after making the decision to notify the public of the error, carefully considered how, when and what to tell district staff, parents and the media about Pitton’s eligibility and whether votes for him would count.
In a series of emails exchanged between Superintendent Steve Schultz, district communications staff and other employees, Dougherty emphasized the need to flood media outlets and social media with positive stories about the district in an effort to overcome the negative public reaction to the district’s error.
The Sentinel obtained the emails Friday under the Colorado Open Records Act. The newspaper requested access to all emails sent or received between Oct. 15 and Oct. 26 by all five school board members: Schultz; Dougherty; attorney for the district David Price; Terri Wells, the executive assistant to the school board who mistakenly certified Pitton; and district spokeswoman Emily Shockley. The district provided those emails, with the exception of emails to or from Price, citing attorney-client privilege.
Wells informed Pitton on ?Oct. 15 that he did not reside in District B.
“In speaking with (Price), he stated the only option you would have to stay a candidate is to move into District B,” Wells wrote. “If that is not an option for you, I have attached a withdrawal form which the county and the District needs you to fill out and return.”
Two days later, current District B board member Ann Tisue held a news conference to inform the public that Pitton did not live in the district in which he was certified to run.
Also on Oct. 17, Schultz and Dougherty decided not to release a public statement addressing the error.
“I suggest we hold this until tomorrow or Monday morning to see how it plays in the media and if it causes Pitton to make a decision, which would change our response,” Dougherty wrote in an email to Schultz. He included two options for a letter to district parents and staff confirming the mistake.
In response to the initial Oct. 17 Daily Sentinel article about Tisue’s revelation, Dougherty wrote: “... I think it causes us to wait until Sunday or Monday to release a statement … Let’s sit back and read the community for now.”
Later that day, Schultz and Dougherty discussed addressing the mistake and how to word a public statement.
Ballots for the election, which included Pitton as a candidate to represent District B, had been mailed to voters well before, on Oct. 13.
It wasn’t until just after 6 p.m. on Oct. 19 that Shockley, in response to questions from The Sentinel, issued the district’s first public statement about the district’s error.
On Oct. 21, Dougherty emailed Schultz and Wells a document of “thought starters and response elements to the illogical and nasty editorial in today’s paper.” He then went on to claim that The Sentinel’s “commentary clearly reveals that they are anti-public education at their core.”
The Sentinel’s editorial criticized the district for being slow to notify the public.
In the first sentence of the email, Dougherty wrote: “It might be a good idea to reach out to Pitton to encourage him not to withdraw at this point. By staying in, the will of the people will be known and no votes will have been cast in vain.”
Pitton told The Sentinel on Saturday he had not been contacted by the district about whether he should withdraw from the election.
Dougherty also anticipated a continued negative public reaction toward the school district.
“Actions taken after the election will trigger new waves of animosity-filled commentary,” Dougherty wrote.
“It’s to help contextualize these comments and letters that I think sending a letter to parents and staff may be wise.”
He also recommended the district focus on its positive work.
“We also want to continue with operations and communications as normal to show through action that this is but one raft in a sea of positive efforts,” he wrote.
“As we suffer through undue criticism, please focus on the many great things we’re doing and remain undeterred in our mission,” Dougherty later wrote.
Shortly after he sent that email to Schultz and Wells, Dougherty sent an email to the district communications team outlining a plan to push out positive stories about the district and acknowledging the district should have released a public statement immediately.
“...We should have spread the word immediately upon confirming the mistake,” Dougherty said. “That was our/my advice to leadership, but it was over-ruled by the legal team. Now, we will suffer a bit.”
Dougherty emphasized the importance of “providing an abundance of positive stories to the media,” especially the new District 51 phone application.
“I want Cat (Foster), Jeannie (Smith) and Emily (Shockley) each writing releases and reaching out to the media if necessary to achieve a steady stream of daily contact,” Dougherty said.
Schultz sent a letter to district parents and staff on ?Oct. 23 apologizing for the mistake, outlining the steps that had been taken to correct it, and listing the accomplishments and attributes of district staff and administration.
Much of the letter was written by Dougherty in his Oct. 21 email to Schultz and Wells.
“Our error caught us by surprise and the complexity of the situation delayed our response, but we did not want to follow one mistake with another made in haste,” Schultz wrote. “We felt obligated to the community and candidates to respond with accurate information.”
Three Mesa County residents filed a petition last week asking a judge to rule on whether Pitton is eligible for election. Chief District Judge David Bottger will preside over the hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Mesa County Justice Center.
The petition was filed by Kent Carson, Dale Pass and James “Gil” Tisue against Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner and Wells.


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Interesting how the district knew and was working on resolution when one of the weakest board members ever to serve on the BOE, Ann Tisue, has a “news conference” to tell of the Districts mistake and then her husband is a named participant in the lawsuit to keep Pitton from running?

Is she so stupid as to think she may be able to stay on the board or more stupid thinking she can just hand pick her boy George as the BOE representative?

The district screwed up, received advice from its attorney, then decided after Tisue’s ill-advised announcement to put a statement out!  The whole situation handled extremely poorly and with no resolution yet the finger pointing in all directions except back to the district which screwed it up in the beginning!

Geez. It surely must be due to a US made video. Are you kidding me. A school district allied with others want to play politics on a national level? But one raft upon a sea of good? Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead we will sink the damned thing. You must be kidding me? For real. A school district for goodness sake. GOB & G.

I find it almost amusing how the shall we say “creative” minds of Good Old Boys (GOBs) corruptocrats and their wannabe-cutesy supporters work: minimize the cover up and attack the person who exposes the truth.
For me this “controversy” is very simple. If Pitton lives outside the district he is trying to represent, that’s the end of story. What is there to “compromise” or “resolve”?
For me, it’s immaterial who paid for the lawyer. For me, it’s an open-and-shut Rule of Law issue.
I say good on Ann Tissue for exposing the truth, good on Kent Carson et al for making a formal protest, good on the Sentinel for covering the story, shame on the school district players for trying to cover up their sins, and shame on Steve Phillips et ilk for trying to demonize the messenger.
Since Phillips inappropriately and unfairly used the word “stupid” in reference to Ann Tissue, it seems fair to use the same word in reference to him. Is Steve Phillips so stupid as to think the public can’t see right through his GOB-type manipulative BS?
Since so many votes have already been cast by mail-in ballot (including mine), it seems the most Rule-of-Law-friendly solution, and the lesser of bad choices is to simply not count any of the votes for Pitton and lay the fault for that unfortunate turn of events squarely at the feet of the wannabe-clever GOB cover-up manipulators.

Mr. Wilkenson:  I would agree with your “rule of law” theory, except for the fact that someone failed to update the boundary map, thereby causing all this confusion, and elections are expensive things, to be sure.  Just what is the “rule of law” pertaining to the failure to do one’s job that results in an election going bad?  Is it Terri Wells who is at fault, or is someone else charged with the task of updating boundary maps?  I doubt that is Sheila Reiner’s job.  As an executive secretary to the Board, wouldn’t Ms. Wells know when District boundaries changed?  This whole fiasco stinks from the very beginning - all concerned!

As we all know a similar error occurred on the east side of the state.  The State Supreme Court ruled that the candidate could run but could not serve.  What a waste of time, money and taxpayer votes.  Pitton would have to go to the CO Supreme Court, if they would take the case, to get satisfaction. He is newly retired on a teacher’s pension and is willing to move at this point in his life to be able to serve in a “volunteer” position.  Not a good idea from a business point. Putting his and his family’s financial stability at risk for this mistake is not a logical decision.  BY-THE-BY: Katie Langford’s piece states on October 15th the District “was told” that Pitton does not reside in Dist. B.  Who told the District?  If Pitton learned this information on the same day, why did he not head this off before Ann Tisue announced publicly the information to the public. Rau is not Pitton’s ONLY competition.  Cindy Enos-Martinez is also running.

Ms. Phillips:  I care not what happened on the eastern side of the state, or what the outcome was.  I don’t know any more than you or anyone else - facts, that is.  What I do know is that those to whom we entrust a level of power to, must be honest and forthright - be they conservative or liberal.  You make some valid points:  Who told the District?  You say: “‘If’ Pitton learned the information on the same day”...  I cannot answer that, nor can you.  I’m still stuck on “Who failed to update the District Boundary map, and what were the consequences, if any?”  Therein lies the original cause of it all - had the District Boundary map been updated, as it should have been, this may not have happened in the first place.  The rest of the whole scenario is people of both sides doing their level best to take advantage of a bad situation, and it doesn’t speak well of any of them.  Not notifying Pitton, first and foremost, but going to Rau, then the press; not the secrecy; not the spin.  Everyone concerned owns a bit of this fiasco, starting with the person whose responsibility it was to update the Boundary Map, but who couldn’t be bothered to do it.  Apparently, nearly all politicians of both stripes care little about the truth and transparency - and that’s the real shame of it.

Mr. Zulian: I agree that “nearly all politicians of both stripes care little about the truth and transparency”, more’s the pity. But it seems to me that it would behoove any serious candidate for public office to at least bother to find out what the correct boundaries pertinent to his or her candidacy are.
Also, “what happened on the eastern side of the state” might very well be relevant because it might be the subject of a dispositive ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court as to what the controlling relevant law of the case actually is in this instance.
I, for one, am not willing to use the mistakes of others—I agree there is WAY more than enough fault (albeit of different flavors) to go around—as a “whipping boy” in an attempt to make a candidate of questionable eligibility look better than the fiasco would suggest to me he deserves.
For me, the very idea of public-employee unions is UNSUSTAINABLE due to being in DIRECT conflict with the best interests of the taxpayers. I realize that view would be considered by some folks to be heresy and anathema. But as Rick Wagner pointed out the other day, that famous “conservative” icon FDR would have agreed with me.
There will always be irreconcilable disagreement between those who want to grow inherently evil and inevitably-corrupting One-Ring (Power over the Other) “government” and those who want to shrink it. I just have a fundamental philosophical problem with my so-called “public servants” having a voice in how many taxes I have to pay. They will always vote for better pay, more benefits, better pensions, shorter hours, bigger desks, nicer offices, prettier secretaries, ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the more gullible and naive among us, such as fruit pickers, sheep herders, box store greeters and burger flippers get to suck wind.
The only solution to inequity is freedom. I am of the school of thought—so-called “Austrian Economics”—who believes that humans are smart enough to channel their labor into what pays them best. As a matter of political philosophy, “government” (aka power over others) should NEVER be the “product” that pays best. As a bunch of smart people said a long time ago, at best it is a dangerous tool, at worst it is a fearful master.
An economy is like a wagon with riders (Takers) and pullers (Makers). When there get to be too many riders and too few pullers, the wagon inevitably stops, and when it does, the only solution is to tip the wagon over, dump all the riders (Takers) out, and start all over again with as many people as possible pulling (Making).

Mr. Wilkenson:  Between your “GOB” identifications in the first missive, and the “fruit pickers, sheep herders, box store greeters and burger flippers get to suck wind”, and “whipping boy” statements in this one - I can pretty well be sure you aren’t opposed to the more liberal remaining SB members being able to pick the final member, should Pitton not be able to serve.  While agreeing with me there is ‘way more than enough fault to go around’ you’re not willing to “use the mistakes of others” to set things right?  Where do we start then - where Mr. Pitton checked the map and found (albeit wrongfully) he was in the proper district?  Does that square things in your mind?  Is a candidate - any prospective candidate, supposed to check the District Boundaries, and finding him/herself inside their district according to the map - then go to the District to have it verified, before seeking the District seat for that District?  I don’t think so, and we can readily see the results of the failure on the part of the District to update their maps in a timely manner.

Mr. Zulian, my comments, as were my questions, were rhetorical. Most of the questions were answered in the Sunday edition.  Pitton’s address has been in District D since 2012.  That says to me he did not complete due diligence to run without controversy.  I do not want the taxpayers to have to pay for court costs, lawyers or anything else to certify him eligible or ineligible. I have had access to the emails that circulated before the “media” feast.  Pitton was notified as soon as they could get hold of him.  Ann Tisue jumped the queue for Rau, which I find disrespectful, but the law suit had to be launched within a particular period of time, so Pitton kept the info under his hat…Did he really think this was going to go away on its own?  Whatever happens, this is PITTON’s error and shows some sloppy research on his part. I hope he runs again if he doesn’t win.  This county really needs dedicated people to be candidates.

Ms. Phillips:  I get that.  In your last missive you say “they notified Pitton as soon as they could get hold of him”, and “I have had access to the e-mails before the ‘media’ feast”, and “he did not complete due diligence”.  WHO notified Pitton, and when?  Date, time, and name please.
It is possible that Pitton lied when he said he checked the boundary maps, but we already know the District failed to update them, so if he checked at all - the maps would show him to be in the proper District.  It is true that Tisue got way ahead of herself, and it is also true that Tisue just doesn’t get to pick her own replacement - she gets one vote, just like me.  Just how is it that you have access to e-mails, prior to the ‘media’ frenzy, and why didn’t YOU make an effort to notify folks?  I have said before:  I want to know why the boundary maps, (District responsibility) weren’t updated, and what repercussions will there be over that.  I don’t agree that this is Pitton’s fault, based solely on the boundary maps, and what information I have, if it is all true.  I researched both Pitton and Rau, and I find that Rau comes up short, but he is hand-picked by Tisue.


Look for yourself.

The link does not work.  Teri Wells tried to contact him on Oct.15, two days after the ballots were mailed and the same day a “concerned citizen” brought the attention of Dist 51 to the problem.  Teri could not leave him phone messages because his message file was full! I wish I could share the emails.  There is a lot of info in them.  But this maybe a bitter sweet point depending on the Bottger ruling today

Ms. Phillips:  I pretty well agree with Mr. Wilkenson:  The law should be followed, and the chips will fall where they may.  We both know already, that in the end, it will be the taxpayers who get screwed.  None of the people who are part and parcel to this fiasco, will suffer consequences of any kind - just the election process.

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