"There was a dispute over where I could set up the camera," Brian Malone said.
Malone grew up in Douglas County. His children attend school there. Over the two years, the school district has been embroiled in controversy from the pushing of a school voucher system to the negotiations process with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees. He's been working on a film on all the tensions.
"It started because a lot of parents and a lot of teachers frankly had approached me over the past several months and asked me to look into this," Malone said.
Over the years, he has made 18 documentaries on various topics ranging from Blinky the Clown to the fall of television journalism. Years ago, Malone also worked at KUSA-TV in the production department.
Over the past three months, Malone says he's been shooting the Douglas County School Board meetings from the same spot in the same room. But, before the August 7th meeting, the school board changed the rules of where the media could set up. Malone was moved to a spot which he says left him with a bad camera shot.
Malone says the new rules are too restrictive to the media. "I think the restrictions are unreasonable," he said.
Malone admits he tried to return to the old camera spot to get a better shot of someone making a presentation. That's when Castle Rock Police asked him to move back. When he refused, he was legally detained and cited for "disrupting a lawful assembly."
The school board then issued a rule prohibiting him from attending future board meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly jumped into Malone's corner and demanded that order be rescinded. The district agreed.
"After Mr. Malone's ACLU-paid lawyer conceded to us that Mr. Malone will abide by the district's rules for tripod mounted cameras and not disrupt any more board meetings, the district lifted its order banning him from district property," Rob Ross, legal counsel for Douglas County Schools, said in a statement. "We also made it clear that if Mr. Malone again disrupts a board meeting, the district will again have him removed and take any further action necessary."
Malone says he plans to follow directions, but he disagrees with the new rules.
"We're talking about a public school board and public servants, and all I am asking for is access," Malone said.
The district says Malone was creating issues for others trying to attend the meetings. When 9News asked to view the board room and the new area where media are supposed to set up, district officials denied us access.
"Our goal is to conduct board meetings in a safe, professional manner," Ross said in a statement. "Guidelines for camera equipment are in place to avoid disruptions, prevent obstructed views for citizens wishing to attend board meetings, and to maintain safety and security for all those in attendance. These guidelines accomplish the goal while still providing access for camera equipment."
This incident may be indicative of the types of emotions flowing in Douglas County with regards to the school district and a board of conservative candidates who have swept the past two elections.
"Remember, this is all tied into a package with collective bargaining, with the vouchers, with the whole question about the vouchers, with the whole question of the role of unions," said Dr. Norman Provizer, political science professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Provizer says politics have taken a stranglehold on the school district.
"A disruptive environment is not really good for any of the stakeholders," Provizer said.
Karin Piper has children in Douglas County. She is also the founder of Parent Led Reform, a group pushing for various changes, including a reform of schools.
"It isn't just angst that I'm seeing, but I'm also seeing a lot of positive energy," Piper said. "I see the changes that are being put into place are very much in demand from our parents and our community."
However, Piper is concerned with some of the mudslinging that has occurred between the school district and pro-union folks.
"Some of the misinformation that is out there about our school district right now, it's not good for anybody," Piper said.
This may be the type of drama Malone is looking for. But, he insists he is not working for the union. And, he is not faking controversy for the sake of his film.
"I would absolutely have to say no," Malone said. "I tried to shoot the meeting in their media area. And, I did for most of the meeting."
He now has to deal with the "disruption" charge. He will do so with the support of the ACLU. And, he plans to continue towards the making of his film.
"This is not a pro-union piece. This is not a piece against the board. We're going to examine all sides here," Malone said. "I've never seen it this divided before."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)