By Heidi Beedle.
The District 49 Board of Education in Colorado Springs voted 3-2 to censure Treasurer Ivy Liu for public statements and Facebook posts that they claim led to harassment campaigns against board members and a “toxic” environment. The board voted to remove Liu from all assignments following Wednesday’s executive session.
Vice President Rick Van Wieren introduced the motion. “I would like to move that to preserve a positive work environment for the staff, Ivy Liu be removed as treasurer and from all liaison and committee assignments effective immediately,” he said.
Board member Jamilynn D’Avola, who has been criticized in the past for transphobic statements to students and during board meetings, asked that Liu’s assignments be reinstated after a period of good behavior. “With the motion, I believe it would be in the best interest to have a time limit, if board behavior improves by a certain point that those would be reinstated so she would be able to have the treasurer and all of the assignments at a certain point in time if the behavior improves,” she said.
Brad Miller, D49’s legal counsel, noted that due to the nature of the treasurer position that would not be possible. “The Treasurer officer role is not fungible, it is elected,” he said.
Van Wieren refused to withdraw or amend his motion to allow Liu’s assignments to be reconsidered. Liu accused Van Wieren, D49 Board President John Graham, and Secretary Lori Thompson of “persecuting” her.
“Ivy, in my opinion — I stated it at the last meeting, I stated three different areas in [policy] BCA-E-1 and I think it was also policy BC,” said Graham regarding the justification for Van Wieren’s motion. “I’m also going to point to our cultural compass where respect, care, trust and responsibility matter. It is how we as a board conduct ourselves. Words matter. Actions matter, and you have been found wanting, depending on this vote.”
Liu claimed the board was attacking her for exercising her First Amendment rights.
“So basically you said I violated something, and that’s your vote,” she said. “I’m really not sure what I’m being accused of. I know you guys were very upset that I put out a constituents update that reflected the latest decisions, none of which were untrue. Then at the last meeting, actually, I think you accused me of writing a couple letters to two of you that Jamilynn and I get on a regular basis. Character assasination, personal attacks and so on, which we’ve never brought up in public. I think you accused me of writing those based on similar language, well, when you’re insulting somebody language often sounds similar. If anything, I feel like I might have been defamed because you have no evidence whatsoever that I wrote these letters, because they sound like any other letter that she and I received that are very personal attacks. I am at a loss as to what I’m being persecuted for here because I have ignored letters from some of you.
“For example, I have spoken with those who said ‘She was digging for dirt when she introduced staff during tours and her personal hatred for Peter [Hilts, D49 CEO] may ultimately have led to the stirring of issues with Powers Zone [D49 is broken into separate ‘zones’ based on geography and other factors] that could cause the district some potentially really great employees. Now, if those words were to come from me I would have said ‘Oh my god what a bunch of horrible accusations that has no basis.’ Things like this were being written to me in a personal email that I just said, ‘You know what, that’s not true so I’m going to ignore it.’ I have emails from another couple of you that attack my character, my intent, simply because I’m standing up for what I believe in. It sounds like I’m being persecuted for expressing my first amendment rights and this is a way of shutting me down. If you’d like to point out something I’ve said in public that is wrong, that is untruthful, I’d like to hear it, but right now basically it’s like we’re going to persecute you because we don’t like what you’re saying. You know, I don’t like many things you say either but it’s our entitlement to our first amendment rights. How is it that just because here happen to be three of you who don’t like what I say you can basically persecute me when I haven’t broken any policies? How is this even constitutional?”
In response, Graham read an excerpt about what he called “toxic” leadership. “For the record, I read the policies that were violated,” he said. “I learned something yesterday in my men’s group about toxic leadership. ‘Toxic leaders blame people. Toxic leaders label people. Toxic leaders build on self promotion. Toxic leaders eventually implode.’ This board is now going to vote on the motion that Rick made. We don’t have to air our dirty laundry in public. This is not an evidentiary hearing.”
Graham, Van Wieren and Thompson voted in favor of motion to strip Liu of assignments. Liu and D’Avola dissented.
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