AURORA | Add the majority of Aurora Public Schools Board of Education members and a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel to the growing list of officials calling for school board director Eric Nelson to cease his work in the public sector.
Nelson is accused of fabricating college degrees and embellishing his military record amid his run for a state House seat in Aurora.
The APS School Board voted Tuesday to suspend Nelson from performing all non-statutory duties on the board and strip him of his status as board secretary. In an unofficial show-of-hands vote, five of seven board members signaled that they were in support of a call made by board president Amber Drevon for Nelson to resign altogether.
Nelson and Director Barbara Yamrick were the dissenters in the unofficial tally.
Drevon’s call for Nelson’s resignation came in the wake of a rash of media scrutiny that called into question Nelson’s academic and military credentials and his criminal history.
At the recent school board meeting, Drevon read a prepared statement that addressed the grievances and APS’ plans for recourse.
“My fellow Board members and I take the allegations against Director Eric Nelson very seriously, and we are actively looking into this matter,” Drevon said in her statement.
Following an initial report in The Colorado Statesman last week, Nelson has faced a slew of allegations, including misrepresenting his service with the U.S. Air Force, misconstruing his academic records, downplaying a lengthy criminal history and missing child support payments.
Nelson is currently running in a Democratic primary against Dominique “Nikki” Jackson to represent Colorado House District 42.
And despite calls to halt his campaign for the State House from several prominent members of his own party, Nelson has continuously said that he has no plans to drop out of the race or resign his school board seat. He doubled down on those sentiments Tuesday at the school board meeting, surprising many when he appeared.
“I have no intention of resigning from this board,” Nelson said. “The people of Aurora elected me to do this job, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
In his brief comments, Nelson did not address prior calls to verify information outlined in his biography, including several academic degrees and affiliation with more than 20 boards, committees and organizations. Drevon directed APS Superintendent Rico Munn to remove Nelson’s biography from the district website as well as any photographs in which he is seen wearing “academic regalia” until his credentials can be substantiated.
“I find it profoundly unnecessary for the board to ask me to step down from my position as secretary and be removed from committee and school assignments when my duties are clearly being fulfilled without incident, regardless of my personal life,” Nelson said.
Following Nelson’s rebuttal, Drevon reinforced her call for Nelson’s resignation, saying that she expects his exit by the end of the week.
“In order to save time, money, further distraction and to provide the board time to appoint a replacement member for the upcoming school year, I am hopeful that you will submit your resignation to me by the end of the week,” she told Nelson.
Brent Spahn, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and transportation director for APS, lambasted Nelson in a public comment portion of the school board meeting for wearing improper and illegitimate military decorations. Spahn, who is also a graduate of the esteemed U.S. Naval War College, was hard-pressed to believe Nelson had earned many of the decorations he is seen wearing on a U.S. Air Force uniform in several photos.
“He is showing himself as a Major in the United States Air Force, and from all of the reports I’ve read, he was not, and I don’t believe he could be,” he said. “From what I know, it takes at least 10 years to achieve the rank of Major … He’s only 38 years old and he’s been doing a lot of other things. I would be shocked if he was a Major in the United States Air Force.”
Spahn took particular issue with several of the medals visible in a photo of Nelson wearing an Air Force officer’s uniform.
“His ribbons are totally out of order … He’s wearing at least two ribbons that are medals that I would be shocked if he is authorized to wear those. I typically only see (the medals) on general officers and admirals — flag officers. Never in my 27 years in the Marine Corps have I seen a Major wearing a defense superior service medal.”
Citing the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, Spahn indicated that Nelson could be breaking federal law by misrepresenting his military credentials.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “It’s against federal law.”
Nelson has mentioned his military service during the campaign but hasn’t discussed specific details about when he served, how long he served and what jobs he held in the military.
The Colorado Statesman found a résumé Nelson used that said he served in a “command” position in the military.
In the picture Spahn referred to, Nelson is wearing an Air Force uniform with oak leaves on the shoulders. Those decorations denote someone who has achieved the rank of major.
Among the several medals on his chest are medals for having fought overseas and for air combat, two things Nelson likely didn’t do in his very brief stint in the Air Force.
Nelson has repeatedly not directly answered questions posed by the Sentinel about that and other aspects of his background.
Bernie Rogoff, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force and serves as executive director of the Colorado National Guard’s Education Foundation, was initially one of Nelson’s supporters.
“I made banners for him, I gave him money,” Rogoff said of his support for Nelson’s HD42 bid.
But that all changed after the revelations about Nelson’s apparent lies about his record. Rogoff said the last straw was a House district executive board meeting June 14, where multiple people questioned Nelson about the accusations.
“He made an elaborate statement to those in attendance. I found serious disqualifiers which made it abundantly clear to me that I could not endorse his candidacy,” Rogoff said, adding that the photo of him wearing the uniform of a major despite only spending eight weeks in the service “glaringly objectionable.”
“He’s obviously a bad guy,” Rogoff said.
In her statement, Drevon said that the board has no legal authority to oust Nelson from his seat. The only recourse to remove Nelson from the board is based on a voter-initiated recall election.
“While the allegations about Director Nelson’s past are troubling, there is nothing in these allegations that would legally disqualify him from serving as an elected board member,” she said. “As such, the board does not have the legal authority to overturn the decision of our voters who elected Director Nelson to the school board.”
The board voted to appoint APS Board of Education Assistant Tonia Norman to assume Nelson’s secretarial duties.
APS spokeswoman Patti Moon said that Drevon or other district officials will provide further comment regarding Nelson’s position on the school board at a press conference June 22 after press deadline.