Douglas County school board members gave former superintendent an ultimatum, new audio reveals

Four members of the board have been accused of breaking the state’s open meeting laws, which they deny.

A newly released audio recording of a coffee meeting between former Douglas County superintendent Corey Wise and two school board members shows them giving him an ultimatum: They would fire him for cause if he didn’t resign in a few days. 

But the two members testified under oath in a February court proceeding that didn’t happen.

The suit alleges that decision was communicated to Wise during the January coffee meeting. Wise was fired without cause in February following a 4-3 vote carried by the board’s conservative majority. The firing prompted a teacher walkout and student protests. The board then appointed Erin Kane, formerly a district interim superintendent, as the new superintendent.  

In a separate lawsuit, Marshall alleges that Kane attended a two-day retreat with the four new board members before they assumed office and weeks before the firing of Wise.

The audio recording appears to contradict some of Williams and Peterson’s testimony under oath during a court proceeding in February. Board president Mike Peterson said “nor did we ask [Wise] to resign at that meeting” and “we did not ask him to resign immediately. We asked him to consider a variety of options.” 

In the audio recording however, board member Christy Williams tells Wise they believe they “have enough” to terminate him for cause, but that’s not the direction they want to go.

“We don’t want to make this horrible, we don’t want to make this super public but we are prepared to do that if that’s the direction in which it has to go,” she tells Wise during the meeting.

Peterson tells Wise, “we did talk about this (termination) and we are prepared to go there.” At another point, he tells Wise, “we’re asking you to move [the end of Wise’s contract] up, and really that’s around having four directors that are absolutely committed to moving a new direction.”

Peterson wraps up the short conversation by stating to Wise, who is about to leave the state for the weekend, that if he decides to resign, he’d like it to be effective Wednesday, Feb. 2.

“If not, if you call us Monday and you say, ‘No Mike, I don't think I'd like to resign, I'd like to move forward with termination,’ then we can get to a special meeting and appoint a hearing officer, start those things.”

“The audio tape is clearer at some points than others, but one can readily hear Peterson and Williams telling Wise on a Friday morning that he must resign by Tuesday evening after he came back from a planned family vacation,” said plaintiff Robert Marshall in a statement. “And if he didn’t, the [board majority] would terminate him for cause.”  

Marshall alleges the two perjured themselves, noting that the Colorado constitution bans anyone convicted of perjury from holding public office.

Peterson also tells Wise he’d “advocate” for Wise to get salary payments until the end of the school year if he chose to resign.

He went on to say, “frankly we're looking to move to a new direction .. . we've reached out to some of the other directors, some new directors to see where we are . . . we were actually already in the same place.”

But in his testimony during a February court hearing, Peterson stated that “no decision was made on the superintendent until the fourth” of February, when the board voted to terminate Wise’s contract. 

A Douglas County District Court granted a preliminary injunction against the four members of the board’s majority in March, forcing them to comply with Colorado’s open meetings law.

According to that order by Judge Jeffrey Holmes, “the evidence indicates that four members of the board collectively committed, outside of public meetings, to the termination of [Superintendent Corey] Wise’s employment.”

The audio recording appears to back up that evidence. 

Polling conducted earlier this month shows 60 percent of those surveyed favor a recall of the four Douglas County School District school board directors elected last fall. Thirty-nine percent voted no with one percent undecided. The group DougCo Collective, which advocates for transparency and accountability in district governance, hired Frederick Polls to conduct the scientific random sample survey of Douglas County voters.