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July 2014 • Online Edition
 

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Clear Intention Can Make All The Difference | Print |  E-mail

by Paul Kashmann

The decisions that guide the course of our daily lives are not always simple and clear cut. 

Black vs. white. Good vs. evil. Right vs. wrong. More frequently there are elements of substantial merit on both sides of the question that should be considered and evaluated.

Priorities must be established so the elements under consideration can be appropriately weighted to enable a judgment to be made determining which side of the debate shall get the nod.

Should your kids be allowed to stay up late at night because family is visiting from out of town, even though it’s a school night? How do you weight the property rights of an individual homeowner in the face of the welfare of the greater community? Should parents decide the fate of schools or is that the right of adminstrators alone? Do developers develop at the behest of the community, or is the community, in need of responsible development, held hostage by the developer? Do the inmates run the asylum? Does the end justify the means? Does, “But you said!” hold any weight at all?

For any system of open debate to arrive at a just conclusion, there must be full disclosure of information from both sides. To intentionally hide a negative outcome for fear of weakening your case may be effective in a con game, but in civic discourse it is inappropriate and ineffective.

Intention – that word carries with it such import. What is the prime directive at play? If the guiding principle is anything other than a right decision, the process is flawed and the outcome in jeopardy.

Parents at Centennial, a K-8 school in northwest Denver, as with parents anywhere, are anxious to see that their children have the best opportunity possible for a quality education. You can imagine their distress that they were given the information  that their school was being “redesigned,” and three-quarters of the faculty would be replaced, a day after the choice period ended, negating the option of sending their children to another school.

One Centennial parent equated the situation to dressing in the darkness. Referring to the powers that be at Denver Public Schools, he opined, “They expect us to choose our children’s future like I choose my socks at 6a.m., in the dark, trying not to wake anyone. I owe my children the duty of ensuring I fully understand what kind of school I am putting them in.”

Clearly, the communication broke down between district and school. An oversight? Perhaps. Purposely directed to limit the possibility of a mass defection of families from Centennial? Could be. One thing is for sure – the process was flawed, and one side feels disrespected, and not heard.  Another thing is that intention is difficult to uncover.

To better control an onslaught of proposed development in the Cherry Creek neighborhood, a committee of stakeholders was assembled to create a guiding document as an appendix to the neighborhood plan, similar to the creation of Blueprint Denver some years ago as an implementation guide for the city’s more far-reaching Comprehensive Plan.

The group of residents, business owners and city staffers drafted and published a white paper last year that addressed issues critical to maintaining the health of the ever-evolving Cherry Creek residential/commercial landscape. The white paper had a major test drive last month when City Council was presented with a rezoning request for the old Cherry Creek post office property at 245 Columbine St. The development proposal substantially exceeded white paper guidelines in the critical areas of floor area ratio (building size vs. lot size) and parking requirements. City Council approved the rezoning 12-0.

Homeowners in the area feel disrespected and not heard. With at least 14 more projects on the drawing board over the next several years – and certainly more to come, residents question the weight of the white paper they were led to believe would protect them from excesses that would inexorably alter the quality of life they were striving to protect. They wonder in which direction the city’s loyalty lies. The city feels that the “spirit” of the white paper was honored, though a pair of most notable elements were set aside. They count the developers as essential to the well-being of our city as the residents.

Different perspectives to be sure. Was the white paper process simply an effort to pacify the community? Or was the rezoning decision simply a case of one side weighing things differently than the other? One person who pays attention to such matters explained that the unanimous ballot may have been a case of collegial voting. “Council tends to support the district council member, so that when something comes up in their own backyard, the others will return the support.”

If this is true, then we’ll never know the true level of support for the issue. We hope it’s not. While Cherry Creek area Councilwoman Jeanne Robb said that voting for the rezoning was a difficult decision that she only made following the public hearing, there’s a chance the decision was not as complex for others on the council. Intention.

Denver Public Schools is governed by a Board of Education comprised of seven representatives. In recent years the board has been divided 4-3, with the majority in near lockstep support of the reform agenda of Superintendent Tom Boasberg, and the minority frequently questioning his policies.

Northwest Denver board member Nate Easley, aligned with the majority, resigned his post in January, leaving a vacancy that could alter dramatically the balance of power on the school district board. Policy demands that the remaining members agree on a replacement within 60 days, or board president, Mary Seawell, also allied with the previous majority of four, will select Easley’s replacement.

DPS has a population of over 84,000 students of which 58 percent are Hispanic. Though the open application process brought 25 applicants, only three were Hispanic, and none are among the finalists for Easley’s seat – eight are black and one is white. None of the board members selected a Hispanic candidate for the finals.

We do not believe that it is essential that a Latino be selected, but we do believe the process would have better respected the majority of the district’s student population if the search effort had made a stronger commitment to representation of the Hispanic community.

The luck of the draw? Maybe? Some sort of attempt to maintain the balance of power on the board? No way to tell. Once again, intention is very difficult to uncover.

 
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