Sunshine Week is March 13-19.
What’s that, you ask? It’s a national initiative to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of secrecy. Simply put, it’s your right to know what elected officials are doing. In this case, I’m talking about your local elected officials—those special districts up here that impact your daily lives.
So it seems fitting that I say something about the Evergreen Park & Recreation District’s process to hire a new executive director. Ellen O’Connor left the district in November, and the EPRD board began searching for a replacement with a goal of bringing the new hire on board by April 1.
The district received 100 applications for the position, narrowed it to seven, and on March 7, the board publicly named the sole finalist—Cory Vander Veen, the current recreation director in Aspen. Board members and EPRD staff members were part of the interviews.
Since the EPRD executive director is such a public position, one thing has been missing in this search process: you.
Was the EPRD board obligated to get the public involved? No. Could it get the public involved? Absolutely. Should it? In my opinion, yes. I submit that an elected board should solicit public input every chance it gets. EPRD is not hiring a CEO for a private company. Instead, this is a public position that oversees a public entity.
Please understand, my concern is not with Vander Veen, but with the process.
I have no doubt the EPRD board has been well intentioned, knowing that applicants don’t necessarily want their current employers to learn they are job-hunting. Elected boards generally say that making the process more public deters the best candidates from applying.
By law, all applications are kept from the public except the application from the finalist or finalists, and district officials have followed those laws. However, with only one finalist, we have no way of judging the wisdom of our five elected board members in their decision.
Even though the EPRD board decided the public would not participate in selecting the finalist, EPRD could have gathered public input by scheduling a meet-the-finalist event early in the 14-day waiting period required between naming a finalist and hiring that person.
Instead, the EPRD board is expected to ask Vander Veen to be available at the next board meeting, which is a Zoom meeting at 5 p.m. March 29, or possibly sooner if the board decides to have a special meeting. Board President Monty Estis says the public can meet Vander Veen virtually, and board members can ask questions before voting on whether to hire him.
Meeting the finalist the same night the board is voting to hire him provides little chance for public input. I was originally led to believe the decision would be made March 29; I have now been told the board will conduct a special meeting the following week to decide whether to hire Vander Veen.
Why does this matter? Because the rec district probably impacts your lives almost daily. You likely are rec district constituents at some level, whether you attend the summer concerts or skate at Evergreen Lake, visit one of the district’s many parks or the district’s two rec centers — or pay taxes if you live in-district. EPRD is about as public as it gets up here in terms of its governance and its impact on residents.
Why should you be involved? Because decisions the EPRD board and the executive director make affect you, and district residents need to be involved in local matters. That’s where I—and other reporters—come in: I attend many special district meetings each month as your representative and report in the Canyon Courier what those boards are doing – because it affects your lives. Believe me, I take that responsibility very seriously.
Some special districts include the public in these sorts of decisions. The Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District board in September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, interviewed five finalists for its top administrative position and invited the community to attend. The board welcomed comments from the public before hiring Cameron Marlin.
I hope you will join me at the next EPRD board meeting to meet the sole finalist for the executive director position. It’s important that you let your elected officials know that you care about this decision.
Deb Hurley Brobst is a reporter for the Canyon Courier, a retired journalism professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver and serves on the board of directors of the Colorado Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She has been a working journalist for 41 years and has lived in Evergreen for 33 years.