Ex-transportation director accuses School Board of illegal action
Officials decline to offer reason for firing
October 30, 2009
Hayden — Richard “Festus” Hagins lost his job Monday, in a school district decision he says was illegal and without warning.
Hagins has alleged that the Hayden School Board acted improperly by discussing his employment and voting to terminate his contract during executive session in its Oct. 21 meeting. Hagins learned that he was fired as the district’s transportation director in a letter he received Monday morning from Superintendent Greg Rockhold. It’s unclear who made the decision.
Steamboat Pilot & Today attorney Chris Beall said it is illegal for school boards to go into executive session and provide only the reason, not the particular matter being discussed. The board went into executive session Oct. 21 to discuss personnel matters. Neither board members nor Rockhold would say what the particular matter was.
Colorado “Sunshine Law,” the state’s open meetings law, requires school boards to reveal the particular matter being discussed “in as much detail as possible.”
“It is now well settled that the identification of the topic without a particular matter of the executive session is illegal,” Beall said.
Hagins said what concerned him was how he was terminated.
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“My major issue is the way they went about it,” he said. “It’s my understanding it was unanimous. It was a discussion about personnel without me, which is against state law. I had no recourse, no way to defend myself or understand the reasons why.”
Hayden School Board President Brian Hoza said Thursday that last week’s executive session dealt with issues about personnel and students. He said the two issues were related but declined to comment further, citing personnel concerns. Rockhold also declined to provide the specific matter because it was discussed in executive session.
Board member Patty Bruchez also declined to say what particular matter was discussed during last week’s executive session. The other board members, Vance Fulton, Kurt Frentress and Sharon Nereson, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The state’s Sunshine Law also states that “no adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action,” except the review, approval and amendment of an executive session’s minutes “shall occur at any executive session that is not open to the public.”
At the Sept. 16 School Board meeting, part-time district bus driver Tammie Mader, full-time driver Sharon Lighthizer and substitute bus driver Laurie Hallenbeck asked to address the board regarding their concerns about the transportation department, according to the minutes.
Hallenbeck said the drivers raised concerns about buses leaking oil, buses having the wrong size tires and other bus maintenance issues. They raised concerns about Hagins not being in the district’s bus barn when he should have been and parents not being able to reach him, Hallenbeck said.
Hoza stopped the public comment session and invited Mader, Lighthizer and Hallenbeck to stay and discuss their concerns with the board in executive session. Hallenbeck said only Mader joined the board in executive session because she had filed a grievance about her job.
Hoza said Hagins was asked to stay after the meeting to discuss the issues during executive session. According to minutes from the Sept. 16 meeting, the board went into executive session regarding “personnel matters.” Beall also said that was illegal because the board didn’t announce the matter to be discussed.
On Thursday, Hoza said the specific matter being discussed Sept. 16 was related to transportation. Hoza said the board needed to speak with Hagins in executive session and that he “wasn’t anywhere to be found.” The board remained in executive session for four hours.
Hagins said he was walking around in the hallways of Hayden High School and Hayden Middle School but that no one came to find him.
Regarding the issues raised by the drivers at the Sept. 16 meeting, Hagins said all buses complied with federal and Colorado Department of Education rules and regulations that deemed them safe for the road. In response to concerns that drivers couldn’t reach him, he said some of his responsibilities took him out of the bus barn. Hagins said he returned calls to parents who left messages for him.
Hagins added that the bus that drivers were concerned about was inspected and approved for district use by Greta Bleau, of the Colorado Department of Education.
In the letter, Rockhold wrote that Hagins’ termination was effective immediately. The letter stated “that the contract may be terminated by either party giving a month’s written notice with or without cause.” It also stated that he would be paid for 30 days starting from Oct. 26.
Rockhold said that according to the district’s legal counsel, “notice can be given and an individual can be paid for that 30 days,” which would be in compliance with the contract Hagins signed June 29, 2009.
Hagins, a former mayor of Hayden and current Town Council member, was hired as the district’s transportation director in June 2008 after 29 years as a journeyman mechanic at Wagner Equipment, including 20 years in Hayden.
Hagins said he liked the school environment, having taught a diesel mechanic class for two years at the high school. When the job became available, he jumped on the chance to do something different.
“I feel I implemented a level of service in this area, and this is how I was treated,” he said.
Hagins said in addition to learning the Department of Education’s rules and regulations, his biggest task in his first year was fixing buses himself to cut costs instead of sending them to a third-party mechanic.
Before the start of his second year, Hagins’ big project was amending the district’s bus routes, at Rockhold’s direction. That cut the number of stops nearly in half, saving wear and tear on vehicles and allowing the district to pull a bus from the routes. At a School Board meeting in August, Hagins told board members the new routes represented an estimated $10,000 in savings to the district.
Hagins said he’s done a good job, which he said was reflected in his annual evaluation, a document he said he signed in the past two weeks.
Hagins said he was most troubled because he says the School Board didn’t do its “due diligence.” He said they never asked him about the issues raised by some drivers.
Beall, the Pilot & Today attorney, said that not only does the Sunshine Law require that an employee of an executive session be notified of the meeting, but the person also must be given the opportunity to request that the discussion be public.
Rockhold wouldn’t comment when asked whose decision it was to fire Hagins. Hoza said that probably would be revealed at the Nov. 18 School Board meeting, when board members will consider whether to approve Hagins’ termination.
City Editor Blythe Terrell and Editor Brent Boyer contributed to this story.