At the appointed hour Wednesday morning, members of the Denver Board of Ethics were all set to consider how Allegra “Happy” Haynes might be able to successfully navigate heading up the city parks and recreation department while remaining a Denver school board member.
Only a key player was missing from the table – Haynes.
While it was not clear at the moment, digging through emails revealed that Haynes was not informed of the time, date or place of the meeting, or that she was expected to attend, said board director Michael Henry, who acknowledged fault.
Long story short: the board may convene a special meeting to consider Haynes’s request for an advisory opinion about how she can fulfill both roles in harmony with the city’s ethics code, Henry said. Otherwise, the issue would need to wait for the board’s next meeting in late October.
Haynes is to assume her $139,293-a-year role as executive director of the city parks and recreation department on Monday after her appointment earlier this month by Mayor Michael Hancock. Haynes, the school board president, is running for reelection for her at-large board seat in the Nov. 3 election.
“A number of people have asked the question, ‘Can you do both of those?’” Haynes said in an interview Wednesday after explaining how she was not in the know about Wednesday’s meeting. “I wanted to make sure that I dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s in terms of addressing my dual role as a member of the board and as a member of the mayor’s team.”
Haynes said she has received advice from the city attorney and will rely on guidance of the DPS general counsel, as well. She said that in cases in which the city department and DPS have a contract, agreement or other legal relationship, she would recuse herself from being involved in either role.
In her Sept. 9 request for an advisory opinion, made public Wednesday by the ethics board, Haynes notes that school board members are not paid and work as volunteers.
She wrote that any contracts between the school district and the city must be approved by the City Council, and that it is unlikely the parks and recreation executive director would take “direct official action” as defined by the city ethics code over matters related to DPS.
Regardless of the circumstances, Haynes’s absence Wednesday at a meeting others knew about illustrates the difficulties in juggling both roles, said Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent who is running against Haynes for the at-large seat.
Speth, who attended Wednesday’s ethics board meeting, said both parks and recreation and DPS are large, complicated organizations that deserve full attention. He highlighted past conflicts between the two, including an ongoing legal battle over a controversial land swap in southeast Denver.
“I believe there should be absolute separation between the management and leadership of those two entities,” Speth said.
In 2001, the ethics board issued an advisory opinion that laid out ground rules for then-school board member James Mejia as he also simultaneously led the parks and recreation department.
Mejia pledged not to take part in any “contract requests, grants, cooperative agreements, as well as negotiations, progress reports, vouchers or other forms of payment receipts of revenues and associated correspondence” involving DPS, instead delegating those duties to a subordinate.
The advisory opinion said that the dual roles themselves do not represent a conflict of interest. The code, it noted, prohibits a city official from taking “direct official action” on a matter before the city if the employee has a “substantial employment, contractual or financial interest in that matter.”
However, the board urged Mejia to take additional steps to make sure he wasn’t involved directly or indirectly as a DPS board member in any matter involving parks and recreation.
Here, you can review Haynes’s request and the board’s 2001 opinion on the Mejia situation: