The South Suburban Parks and Recreation Board of Directors voted unanimously to hold an application process to fill the vacant seat of former board member David Lawful, who passed away suddenly in May.
At the May 24 meeting, several public commenters expressed frustration with this decision and a desire for the district to evaluate recent election results when choosing a new board member.
In South Suburban’s May 2 election, which took place eight days before Lawful died, Pam Eller and Ken Lucas received the most votes.
Candidate Elizabeth Watson came in third place, trailing about four percentage points behind Lucas and beating out candidate Alexis Barrere by only five votes, according to the official results.
Candidates John Priddy and Michael Edwards earned approximately 14% and 7% of total votes, respectively.
According to the district's bylaws and state law, any vacancy occurring on a special district board shall be filled by a vote of the remaining board members, with the appointee to serve until the next regular election.
At the meeting, Chair Susan Pye and previous board member Jim Taylor both made tributes to Lawful.
“This is a tremendous loss not just for me, but for the South Suburban community,” Pye's tribute said. “From small park dedications to large district-wide projects, Dave has made a lasting impact on our organization.”
Choosing a process
At the meeting, Executive Director Rob Hanna said whatever appointee the board chooses must be a resident of the district. Other than that stipulation, he said, the process for choosing a new board member was completely up to the board.
Immediately after Hanna shared this information, Vice Chair Pam Eller asked if the board would get to see “the final compilation of questions for the candidates.” She also asked if it would become public information when applicants filled out applications.
Before Eller’s questions, no earlier comment in the discussion or public agenda documents mentioned an application process.
On the meeting agenda, a single memo said, “the board needs to discuss and provide direction as to the process to fill this vacancy,” and noted that the district’s legal counsel had provided the board information regarding the legal requirements of the process.
Watson, who was in attendance, said she and other attendees thought it sounded like the board had come to a decision before the public meeting.
“When Pam Eller asked the question about the application process, that basically says ‘This board already knows what they're going to do,’” Watson said in an interview with Colorado Community Media. “They'd already decided. And how did they decide that, and when did they decide that and how was that not open to the public?”
South Suburban Communications Manager Becky Grubb said board members expressed interest in creating an application process through one-on-one “conversations with Rob (Hanna)” before the meeting.
“The board basically went through standard operating procedure in having Rob (Hanna) draft policy,” she said. “They all had input in one way or another, but there was no meeting, which is why there was no public meeting.”
She said each board member shared their goals with Hanna in separate, individual meetings.
Later in the May 24 meeting, the manager of administrative services, Jennifer King, publicly read a timeline for an application process. The timeline was not available on the meeting’s public agenda.
Grubb said documents related to the application process were not included in the public meeting agenda because staff did not have final documents to share before the meeting.
After listening to public comment at the meeting, she said board members individually reviewed the application plan and approved it separately on May 25.
The board’s discussion of the selection process during the meeting took less than 10 minutes.
Acknowledging the election
During the public comment portion of the discussion, community members shared their hopes that the board would choose an appointee from the recent election results.
“The untimely passing (of Dave Lawful) was less than 10 days after election,” said one Centennial resident. “For the board to appoint someone that was not involved in that election, that did not put forward the effort, the desire to be on this board in that election, I think would be an affront to voters in this district.”
Littleton resident Adam McDaniel said he would be concerned if the board appointed someone who was not a runner-up.
“If the untimely passing of the board member had happened prior to the election, then there would have been three board members open,” he said.
“I am in support of acknowledging the recent election and recommend that the board nominate the candidate who received the third-most amount of votes from the South Suburban voters May 2 to fill the vacant position, as we have already expressed who we feel should represent our district and our dollars,” added a Littleton property owner.
Watson, who noted the small margin between her vote count and Barrere’s, said she thinks the board should consider the election results.
“Even if they don't accept me as the third-place finisher, Alexis Barrere is very qualified and … I would absolutely approve of them selecting Alexis,” she said in an interview with Colorado Community Media.
“South Suburban has a choice to have a board of directors consisting of elected representatives or they can disregard the input from the community and handpick a board member,” she continued. “After attending the recent board meeting, it is obvious to me that South Suburban is going to ignore the results of the recent election and hold a meaningless application process.”
Grubb said the board's decision to have an application process shows their extra attention to being transparent.
“Legally, the board of directors can appoint whomever they want,” she said. “They have decided to make this process more transparent and create an application process for any interested parties.”
She said the application process has nothing to do with the election.
“The timing of Dave Lawful’s unexpected passing just happens to be eight days after the election,” she said. “But this process would be the same if it occurred any time after the election.”
King said the call for applications would go out on May 25 and will be due on June 6. The board will have until June 8 to submit its rankings, she said.
Staff expects the board to be able to appoint and swear in a new board member at its next board meeting on June 14, however, the board may decide to delay this if they would like.
Applications will be available on the district’s website and information on the process will also be available on its social media channels.
Editor's note: This story was updated on May 25 to include a quote from tributes to Dave Lawful at the May 24 meeting.