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Public Officials and Personal Space: Lines That Should Not Be Crossed

In 2019 I ran for and was elected to the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education, my first race for elected office. While I was prepared for the public part of service and engaging with the community I was elected to represent, I was not at all prepared for the invasion of my personal space. During my time in office, I have made two public appeals from the dais asking the community to respect the personal space that is my family home. I recognize that access to elected officials is an essential part of a free democracy. We are elected to represent the community and cannot perform these duties to the best of our ability without listening to and talking with our stakeholders. That is an essential and inherent part of the position. However, when the boundary between public and personal is crossed for elected officials it sets a dangerous and inappropriate precedent that ultimately threatens those in public service.

Recently, someone mailed to my home a letter expressing their displeasure about mask mandates. This anonymous letter also included a photograph of one of my children and I outside on the front lawn of our family home. Throughout the spring and summer, several people sent angry postcards to my home. These notes were easily read by my children when they retrieved our mail and made them feel unsafe in their community and in their home.

This past weekend that boundary of personal space and home was again violated. A candidate for the November city council race came to my home and left a handwritten note for me with my family. My parents and my children read the following note before I was able to see it: “So disappointed to see that you have endorsed my opponent. If you are ignoring me, that makes you a bully. If you are endorsing without talking to both candidates then you are not setting a good example for our children.”

To be clear, I’ve never received a phone call or email from this candidate and was not aware that they would be coming to my house to speak with me, uninvited. The candidate also identified themselves by name and as a “longtime Jeffco teacher.”

It’s important that I share this with you because I want our community to remember that elected officials are people, too. We have lives outside of what you see at public meetings. On the Jeffco School Board I strive to uphold my values of equity, opportunity, and engagement. I spend countless hours reading reports, visiting schools, and preparing for our board meetings as an unpaid volunteer on the board of education. I read and respond to the hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls that I receive, sometimes weekly, as official correspondence in my role on the school board. I enjoy having civil conversations on the issues impacting our schools, students, and community no matter if the person lives in my designated District 3 or not.

When individuals feel entitled to encroach on my family’s space and bring their grievances into my home, that is where I draw the line. It demonstrates a significant difference in what I believe to be core values we should bring into public service - professionalism and respect, to name just two. Our community is facing significant challenges that are intricately connected. The work of the school board is not separate from the work of city councils or other elected bodies, and the issues we are striving to address and resolve need collaboration and thoughtful partnership to succeed.

I’ve been told I’m naive to believe that we share common interests across the identities that separate us, and that within those shared interests are possibilities for problem solving and collaboration despite differences of opinion. I often refer to this space as the radical middle, because it’s a radical act to see across perspectives and work toward a middle ground. My endorsement of one candidate does not preclude civil and respectful conversations with a different candidate, which could have happened through a simple email, phone call, or request for a face-to-face meeting.

I sincerely hope that my children, and anyone else who is listening, understand that I speak up not only to protect my own family and personal space, but to encourage a more positive dialogue moving forward. Democracy cannot work if elected officials feel threatened or targeted outside of their role as a public servant. For the school board, specifically, I want parents and community members to run for this office who want to serve, not to be anxious about what comes next in the mailbox or on their door from a stranger. Our kids and our communities deserve compassionate and sound decision makers who see public service as a pathway to improvement, not a tool for divisiveness. We must, as elected officials and as a community, set a strong example for how we can all contribute to a better “us” through our individual and collective actions.

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